I have lived in London on and off for about twenty years or so. I graduated under the tutelage of Middlesex University, as it is now. But, then, what had been an independant art school, Hornsey School of Art, became part of the new trend of polytechnics. They I think were a derivative of the technical college scheme. I think it just means many sites, under one roof, as Middlesex Polytechnic, had about five or six in all. I came to London to look at colleges at the tender age of nineteen. Even then, the sense of many influences of cultures far and near, were ever present in the restaurants, local cafes, and clothes sold at market stalls, on a Saturday and Sunday weekend. My taste for different foods, and foods with more exotic and exagerated flavourings, became the norm for my own sense of appetite, and satisfaction. My first flat mate cooked a mean chilli con carne, and served it with brown rice. I had not had brown rice before then. And then too, this influence led me to experiment with food of my own. The wonderful moment when a young person emerges, independant of parents, to explore what the world contains.
Camden market, sprawls over two sides of a canal, with river boats, and new apartment blocks with balconies. There too, you will find a variety of food stuffs, paella freshly cooked in a large pan, and curries, served hot for those days when drissle is all that comes down from a grey city sky. A few years ago, I had become aware, of the effect of living in this kind of ‘Bohemia’, that my character and personality had become stamped with the indulgence in book reading, and collecting of many years of life. Smoky atmospheres, music flowing lightly from wireless radios. My sister had visited, and I had persuaded her to have a sepia tattoo. They do wash off! But, in any case, she was intrigued, and I had often seen these decorations on the hands of Asians who attended wedding celebrations.
I have never had a problem with the very mixed race of people that occupy, this city. The religions vary hugely. Most of the new foreigners are more than glad to be in a democracy which offers choice of who you are and what you become. It is a relative freedom. People talk of becoming Westernized. But, most of the young inevitably are going to pick up on the joys of music and partying through their school years, and beyond. How we all do change, little by little into the adults of the future.
I live now further away from the central zone of London’s heart. I live in an area predominantly Asian, but with some black Caribean influences. And now because of war there is a kind of digging in effect for these British Asian people, feel under suspicion. The racial tensions created by events of the last decade, seem to become a perpetual source of anxiety. Now too the muslim immigrants from war zones, filling up the available accomodation in London’s east end, are changing the demographics of the city. And the recent news of a stabbing, in the less sizable town of Colchester, of a young female student in a full-length abaya and hijab, suggesting that the motive was religious or racial or both. The situation in the neighbourhoods of Redbridge, is marked, by the local Tesco, somehow trying to be all things to all people, selling Kosha food, and, Halal meat in its fridgedaires, all marked and sign posted.
A walk through any part of Islington, might show some of what is now new, but the sluggish flow, of people and traffic even in the mid-day period. Are we a little Egypt, or an island of Moroccan and Persian, cafe owners. You could be forgiven for thinking that, in a certain place that the world had become occupied by a men only population. Or is this their culture, the women stay at home whilst the men, go out to smoke over samovars, smoking through pipes, taking it easy, the lazy day of a summer afternoon. I felt the only female standing. I walked as if in a strange dream down a road leading to Finsbury Park train station. There seemed to be hundreds of men of a swarthy complexion, some with turbans of a variety of naturally dyed materials. Some with just enough curiosity to look up at the strange woman looking rather pale, the English woman passing through as if in a completely different land. I can only conclude, that the war against terror, has displaced many peoples, and again that many people are displaced by war, and civil war which may have nothing to do with us. We the British, we the raj of yester year. I love Indian curry. I am partial to Moroccan cous cous salad. I will eat falafal in pitta bread. I will read Albert Camus. My friends are who they are, whatever the race, whatever their religion, Hindu, muslim, catholic, atheist well some. Agnostics. Buddhists. London the hotch potch, gridlocked, polluted, smoke. The big smoke. (to be cont’d)