It was K’s last night with me before he moves to Brighton. After fiddling with toys in Hamleys, walking around the Regent Street Festival, wandering the too-posh area around Bond Street, commenting on outfits that cost as much as a deposit on a house and swirling our heads round to admire a white Bugatti Veyron convertible, we were hungry.
K called his Lebanese gynecologist friend for some advice and we found ourselves on the vibrant James Street. It has a square of restaurants and men playing music in the street. The night air was warm and windless. Though you really can’t see any stars in the middle of London, it was a stunning night.
At Massis, a little Lebanese restaurant next to a French creperie, we sat outside under a tree and an umbrella and filled our tummies with kellaj (char-grilled bread filled with halloumi cheese), mixed shawarma (tender slices of marinated chicken and roast lamb) and hot mint tea. We filled our minds with good conversation.
Next to us on both sides, people chattered away in Arabic, to each other and to the waiters. People were smoking shishas and when the street music moved along, exotic middle eastern music floated out of the restaurant door.
I love that London can transport you almost anywhere you would rather be. It’s not just London. It has little slices of the whole world swirling around in one massive, multicultural jumble. It’s a beautiful thing.
If I ever moved away from here than that is almost certainly what I would miss the most.
Last week, it was revealed by the Office of National Statistics that Mohammed is now the most popular boys’ name in London, and a few other British cities. Considering its significance in Islam and the fact that the Muslim population is rising 10 times faster than the rest of the population, it’s not surprising.
It’s refreshing, I have to say, coming from a small American city so white (97.86%) it was historically known as a “sundown town“. There’s not much religious data available, but the few pages I did find listed it as “0.02% are an eastern faith; 0.00% affilitates with Islam.”
Being in a city like London where you can walk out your door to so many different languages being spoken, having a choice of Nepalese or Pakistani or Spanish or Moroccan restaurants within a few minutes walk of one another, seeing differences in people’s faces, lifestyles, cultures, faiths, etc, is one of the most incredible experiences. It opens your eyes to so many possibilities and life choices.
Back seats, top deck. For 12 stops, four middle-aged men sit in a row, shouting in Arabic, laughing, singing and clapping along to their song. They point to pedestrians and mix their own language with “woo, blondie, there!” and wolf whistles abound.
Near Ladbroke Grove station, at a bus stop, three people sit on the red bench: one tiny woman wearing a headscarf, one large white man with ginger hair, freckles splattered like paint up his arms, one heavyset black woman wearing a business suit and smart heels. They share a snack among themselves, passing around a white paper bag and munching quietly.
A man walking over a zebra crossing. When he turns to check for traffic, he exposes the other side of his face which is covered in large sanguine scabs.
Five seats ahead of me, a woman sits with a small child. He jabbers away in Spanish, gesturing excitedly the entire journey. She has her nose in The Sun and nods occasionally in his direction. She barely says two words. When they get off, she says, “Vamos!”
A few stops from mine, a man with dirty-blond, waist-length rocker hair and a prominently featured plumber’s bum gets on. He sits diagonally across from me. The man next to me, a black man twice my age with a white beard and long dreads wrapped up in a hat turned and giggled quietly with me.
Last night, after a multi-cultural drink session in Notting Hill, there was me and five South Africans sitting around the firepit under clear, still, warm skies. That’s one thing I love about London; we could just as easily have been in South Africa.