24 June, 2008


Quote of the day

In the "And finally..." slot of this mornings Today programme, the head honcho of Anything Left-Handed was interviewed about the fact that both of the US presidential candidates are left-handed, as indeed were a disproportionate number of senior American politicians, Bill Clinton included.

She put forward the theory that left-handers have an enlarged corpus callosum, facilitating intracranial communication and improving verbal skills. This, she surmised, enabled left-handed politicians to "update their beliefs more quickly".

So then, they not only spin whatever they think we want to hear, but they convince themselves that they believe it. Frankly I'd feel safer with a bunch of cynical liars; at least they'd have a clearer intellectual understanding of the consequences of their actual policies.

15 June, 2008


More Plain Tales from the Multiculture

I was walking along a street in the West End of London when the driver of a bus stuck in traffic called out to me. It took me a moment to decipher his heavily African-accented English but it turned out that he was asking where he was! I told him the name of the street and walked on, bemused. Unlike an earlier experience, when I helped navigate the Turkish driver of a rail-replacement bus service operated by the Dartford Cheap'n'Dodgy Motors Co across south-east London, on the present occasion it was a mainstream London bus.

The other day I made a purchase in a chain electronics store in central London. This was not some one-man-and-his-brother Gujarati box-shifting establishment in a back street off the Tottenham Court Road, where one might readily expect to be served in sign language by somebody's cousin or nephew overstaying his visitor's visa; this was a major high-street chain. The young Subcontinental man who served me spoke English with an accent so impenetrable that his colleague -- another, only marginally more comprehensible Indian -- eventually had to intervene to interpret.

On a subsequent visit to another branch of the same chain, I sought the advice of a young East European, whose Engish was clearer but whose vocabulary was very limited, making an effective "consultation" impossible, however well he might have known his stock.

Actually this is more typical of East Europeans in London service industries than people generally assume. Many central London and inner-suburban pubs are overwhelmingly staffed by the almost legendary Poles. Magda and Mirek will take your order in impeccable English and cope far better in understanding slurred half-drunken orders -- I refer here to my observations of other customers, of course! -- in a noisy environment than I ever could. But their English is very highly focused on the task. If you chance to speak to them on some more general topic, the limitations of their core scripted repertoire become apparent.

Of course, this doesn't affect the quality of the basic service they provide. I have found Polish and other East European barstaff to be almost universally cheerful, friendly hard-working and efficient, but it does impose limitations and their apparent level of competence can lead perversely to misunderstanding and frustration. I have learned not to make assumptions about what the friendly Pole I am talking to is actually understanding. I am reminded of an anecdote from Radio 4's long-departed talkfest Stop the Week, in which a professor with a good ear for pronunciation, travelling by car in Italy, stopped to ask directions. His pronunciation of place names was so perfect that his interlocutor, taking him for a native, responded at speed in the local dialect, to the good professor's utter incomprehension.

Travelling home from London Bridge one day, announcements on platform 5 were given in incomprehensible South Asian-accented English, while, for a bit of variety, announcements on platform 4 were given in incomprehensible Afro-caribbean-accented English.

Arriving at my local train station on another occasion, I was disappointed to hear an announcement to the effect that services were suspended due to a problem further down the line. Actually, that's not precisely true. I had just read this information off a platform display. The announcement followed. All I could tell for sure was that it was a) an announcement over the platform speakers, b) was probably in a language purporting to be English and c) was delivered in a very strong West African accent. Had I not already read the same information I quite genuinely would not have been able to make an informed guess at what was being said. Unfortunately there was no-one from the district's huge Nigerian "community" on hand to translate.

I could cite many more examples, often involving the largest household-name service and retail organizations.

Several points can be made.

First, why are so many basic service and retail jobs in central London being done by immigrants? I don't mean by UK-born people from ethnic minorities, the children of earlier immigrants; I mean obviously recently-arrived "first generation" immigrants.

Secondly, many of these people appear to be of non-EU origin, and yes I do mean by that that they are not White and speak with recognizable Asian or African accents. On what basis are they here? Can you really get a work permit just to work behind the checkout in M&S?

Thirdly, despite my mastery of the language of this country as a native speaker, I increasingly find myself in a foreign city, where everyday communcication is reduced to a kind of pidgin, or to put it more kindly, Basic English. This is hard work, dispiriting and very alienating. It leaves me feeling just as much a foreigner as all the alien buggers around me, and, frankly, I don't like it.


Catch a tiger by his tail

Laban draws our attention to this contribution to London's vibrant diversity. Bored with reading about Africans shooting and stabbing each other in South London? How about a bit of Tamil violence for a change?

One thing puzzles me. Apparently, some, possibly many, Tamils in the UK owe their permanent presence here to successfully claiming asylum from the fear of persecution at home in Ceylon. More generally, quite a number of people from all over the Indian Subcontinent have claimed asylum here on the basis of flight from some individually plausible category of persecution.

And yet India is a vast and diverse, startingly diverse, place. If a Tamil in Sri Lanka is in fear of the Sinhalese, he can easily flee across the Palk Straight to Tamil Nadu. If he is in fear of the LTTE, he can disappear among the seething Tamil hordes of Madras; he would be safer and less conspicuous there than in London, where apparently the LTTE's long arm can still reach him.

Much the same argument applies to other Subcontinentals claiming asylum. Punjabi Muslim in fear of the Sikhs? Try moving to Karachi, not Cricklewood.

Or is their choice of asylum country motivated by something other than safety? Do tell.

I am reminded once again of the Ugandan woman who, her husband having been murdered by political enemies, betook herself and her youngest child to London, where she claimed asylum. Her older children were at boarding school in another part of Uganda, where they were apparently safe. When these children completed their education, our brazen refugee lady applied for them to be allowed to join her in the UK.

Simple question: if her children were safe enough from her late husband's enemies elsewhere in Uganda, why did she not go there herself?


Plain Tales from the Multiculture

I had just missed a train. Actually, the train was still standing at the platform as I arrived on the station, but it was at the far end of the platform and really not worth running for. Sod's Law decreed that it would leave just as I reached it, and in any case the next one was no more than a quarter of an hour's wait.

A West African woman, almost certainly given the local demographic a Nigerian, had just alighted from the train and was pushing her baby buggy along the platform, with two REOs and two general rail staff in close pursuit. (REO = Railway Enforcement Officer, the new name for ticket inspector.) The group came to a halt on the platform and a furious row ensued, or rather continued. Having been caught without a ticket, the women had opted for a give-no-quarter, vehement-denial response, refusing to pay, refusing to give a name and address, firmly asserting her right to ticketless travel in the face of bureaucratic unfairness. As far as I could hear, her case seemed to be that (as she claimed to the REOs' evident scepticism) she normally bought a ticket but had decided not to on this occasion, so she should be let off for, as it were, scoring nine out of ten. Interesting logic. The two REOs patiently waited for her to "run down" while subtly deflecting her attempts to push past and escape. I got the impression that the REOs were waiting for reinforcements, probably in the form of the BTP (British Transport Police), as the impasse seemed likely to escalate.

So much so business-as-usual. What happened next is what makes this everyday event something worth posting about. Intending passengers began to arrive on the platform, among them a Nigerian man. Scarcely a surprising coincidence as typically 30% to 50% of passengers waiting at my local station at any time are likely to be Nigerians. Over the past four years or so the district has become Nigerianized to the extent that our first African specialist grocery store cum money remittance agency has just opened. Seeing a Sister in distress, brutally harassed by two White petty officials, the Nigerian man began to rant and expostulate, accompanied by as fine a show of energetic, aggrieved arm-waving as I have seen for a long time, while the male REO calmly and repeatedly suggested that he not interfere. So persistent and intense did the man's ranting become that the REO eventually felt it necessary to threaten to have the BTP arrest him if he did not desist.

The ranter's English was very heavily accented, as well as being distorted by his anger; it was impossible to hear every word clearly, but two shouted phrases stood out: "Human rights" and "George Bush".

George Bush?

Now I know that many of the world's current ills are laid at Dubya's door, and sometimes with at least arguably good reason, but I did not realize that he was the evil force behind the terrible injustice that deprives Nigerians in London of their inalienable human right not to pay train fares.

It's good to know that the tradition of Righteous Victimhood thrives among our newer immigrant communities. A Black man can of course do no wrong; any seeming transgression is in reality justified reaction against provocative White oppression. And as I now learn, such oppression forms part of a deliberate campaign against the Black Man, organized from the White House. Next time my ticket is checked on the South-Eastern, I shall listen carefully for American accents, alert lest the CIA has infiltrated our ticket inspectorate.

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