George Alagiah interviews us on the BBC
Friday 2 March 2007
No.s 51 & 52: Pakistan & France
Kensal Revisited Again
Alex Horne – 2nd March 2007
Owen had to go home after lunch. Unfortunately this isn’t actually our job so sometimes both of us have to do things that don’t involve asking strangers where they’re from. I, however, had a couple of hours free in the afternoon and am self-employed so decided to head back to Chamberlayne Road and see if I could sink the Pakistani and French putts I’d been lining up earlier (yes, that’s a golf metaphor and it only really works if golfers 'line up' their putts three hours before taking the shot. Which they don't. Oh well).
To my amazement, I holed both first time. To begin with, all the way from Pakistan, I met Javed, the actual owner of the internet (and phone accessories) shop we’d dropped by that morning. ‘As in Miandad?’ I said, hopefully, continuing our tradition of using sport as a conversation starter. ‘Ah, yes. You have much knowledge of cricket’, came the reply. This was going brilliantly.
The only thing Javed wasn’t willing to share was his image in a photo, but to ensure you know what I was up against, I’ll do my best to describe him now. He’s 45 years old and was prodding a broken mobile phone with a tiny screwdriver. He was also a picture of sophistication I can only dream of achieving: chocolatey brown suit, creamy black polo neck, some sort of patent leather shoes with frilly bits on the side, and jet black hair slicked back from his smooth forehead; his really was a great look.
He’s run this business for a year but has been in the country for seventeen. He has customers from all over the world using the internet and getting their phones fixed in his shop and I asked him if he thought immigration to London had changed much since he arrived. ‘Not really’, he sighed. ‘There are good people and there are bad people. That is life’.
I agreed and told him how suspicious people can be when approached by two men holding a folder and asking questions about their nationalities. He laughed and I felt proud. I’d made a very sophisticated man chuckle! To be honest though, I was feeling a little awkward in front of his wall of debonairness and my questions were rapidly drying up. ‘You must want to ask me something else’, he said perceptively. I said something inane about how fixing phones must be very difficult. He told me it was his job. I thanked him again for helping me.
‘I like to help anyone who is doing research’, he smiled, serenely. Ah, well, yes, research, that’s what I’m doing. ‘So why did you come here?’ I asked eventually, relieved to have thought of something, anything. ‘I came to get a better future’, he replied, employing his trademark sound-bite style once again. ‘It was much safer here than in Pakistan’.
Now I was really anxious. ‘Why? What was going on in Pakistan?’ I should have asked. But being English and reserved and not wanting to admit any ignorance to such an unflappable individual, I kept quiet. I’ve since found out that Pakistan had been ruled by the military president (or martial law administrator) Rahimuddin Khan for the last eleven years and was in the middle of some of its tensest border disputes with India but at the time I nodded sagely and said I’d better be getting on. He calmly waved me off and said I could come back with more questions any time. I really should take him up on the offer.
But in the meantime, I had a Frenchman to meet so hurried back down to his deli, relieved to be approaching a country I knew something about. ‘I’m from Caen’, said David who was happy to answer my questions in his post-lunch lull. ‘Oh Caen’, I grinned, ‘I grew up near Brighton. It’s quite similar - in the south, nice and warm’. ‘Oh no, not Cannes, Caen. It’s in the north, it’s not nice and warm, but it is quite near Brighton’, he laughed and I felt a little bit pathetic.
Luckily David (and I hope you’re pronouncing that the French way), was a jovial sort of fellow and I didn’t feel down for long. He’s been here two and a half years and is saving up for an enormous trip round the world, taking in Barcelona, Canada and South America at the very least. He originally left Caen (located in Normandy, 96.8 kilometres from Le Havres – I know now) because he wanted to see something different and London was the closest big city. He arrived, penniless and immediately had to find a job that gave him enough cash to pay for his hostel on a daily basis. Fairly soon though, he’d made friends, picked up enough regular work and a lot of the language and has enjoyed discovering the city for himself ever since.
Now, again, he wants to see something different and is working hard to bank enough money for his forthcoming voyage round the world. ‘It’s a nice place to work though’, he said before adding, a little cheekily, ‘the food is excellent – it’s not just from England, it’s from all over the world!’
Unfortunately, when I left I was so busy getting his details (his email address included the initials BLT, by the way, which he said was actually in honour of the Great British Sandwich so I forgave him his little dig at our cuisine), I forgot to pay him for what was genuinely a delicious cup of coffee. Halfway home, pleased with my two successes, I realised my mistake and scampered back, tail between legs.
‘Yes, I realised when you’d left’, smiled David and I was glad I could reassure him that it hadn’t been an elaborate day-long plan to get a free cup of coffee. It’s just an elaborate year-long plan to spend lots of money on cups of coffee and be inspired and entertained by people like him.