13 July, 2010


Tales from the Multiculture - Cutty Sark edition

Until a few years ago, Greenwich was very much a hideously White blot in a sea of wholesome Swarthiness. The wholesale concentration of the University of Greenwich campus into Greenwich itself (a bit more upmarket than the erstwhile Thames Poly's gaff at Woolwich) has ameliorated this deficiency somewhat. Greenwich has a very high proportion of overseas students (or probationary immigrants as I believe they are known in the trade). (Incidentally, I wonder if Doreen Lawrence, mother of St Stephen, is still working as an administrator at Greenwich Uni. She must be pleased with these developments.)

While this demographic adjustment has superficially improved the credibility of the place and is to be welcomed, it is only a small step in the right direction. It was therefore good to see evidence of succesful ethnic integration into wider society when I visited Greenwich yesterday. I refer of course to the increasing representation of BMEs in the begging community.

Long-established operative Joe, or "Fuck off you parasite" as he is sometimes known, was making his rounds. Joe spends his days wandering the streets and in more clement weather patrolling the beer gardens of Greenwich soliciting contributions. I believe Joe is of North Indian or mixed-race heritage. Yesterday his efforts were supplemented by those of a Black Big Issue vendor, whom I have not seen before. Romanian Gypsies have recently secured the franchise for Big Issue sales in central London and are beginning to extend their operations to the suburbs, so perhaps he had been displaced. Joe was joined by a raddled and aggressive White colleague with whom he discussed "solicitation strategies" after which a Black gentleman, clearly an amateur as well as an outsider, stopped to inquire after contributions. He was not made welcome.

I didn't see the Hostel Woman yesterday though; probably a bit early for her. The Hostel Woman is of indeterminate age and indeterminate ethnicity. She has the look of someone whose ancestors moved from India to the Caribbean where they enjoyed a little dalliance with the Black population, itself of course part White in heritage. The Hostel Woman works the trains from London Bridge to Greenwich during the homebound peak. Her pitch is that she just needs another £5 to be able to afford a hostel place for the night; otherwise she will have to sleep rough "again". Enough passengers give her a pound towards her "target" that when she cashes up at Belushi's next to Greenwich station, she usually changes up at least £40 or £50 before meeting up with her partner and taking the train home.

I notice the quality of the itinerant Chinese DVD vendors is not what it was. Mostly mumbling furtive young men these days. I do rather miss the enterprising and friendly Chinese girl who presented her wares nicely, knew her stock and cultivated her customer relationships. She was on first name terms with the pub cat at The Mitre and was trying unsuccessfully to teach the pub customers Mandarin. They never entirely grasped the lexical tonality of the language and persisted in pronouncing Ni hao ma? in a manner which probably means something extremely rude to a Chinese ear. I wish her well.

Ah, London. Where would we be without our Vietnamese community and their extensive indoor herb gardens, and the tireless Jamaicans who distribute the crops? The Somalis who manage the retail market for recreational chemicals of a stronger nature with such firmness and efficiency? Our Nigerian entrepreneurs who are so helpful in facilitating the supply of documentation, circumventing the arthritic bureaucracy of the state? And by no means least, the Kosovar businessmen who have so selflessly filled the gaps in brothel management, now that the Maltese are no longer willing to do the work?

Repoprting from leafy Heretfordshire I can report that Romanian Gypsies have already taken over the Big Issue out here.

I never buy it anymore.

I can also report that its only the women selling it. Their menfolk are no doubt hard at work elsewhere building the 21st hi-tech knowledge economy that characterises modern Britain.

Er, that would be Hertfordshire.

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