LONDONERS is our occasional series here at The D.C. A photographic gallery of the stars, bit-part players, icons, divas and eccentrics who colour our city. Here's a contribution from LW's David…
“Mankind will not survive the honeybees’ disappearance for more than five years.”
And if the people who know about these things are right, the honeybee is going, going...
Gawd, it makes depressing reading, the looming perfect storm of ecological catastrophes. Depressing reading – and scary reading.
Polar bears facing extinction. Ditto King Penguins. Those two – and the honey bee, the linchpin of our fruit and vegetable production – are just three of several thousand plants and animals that are facing extinction.
Too right, this post has got off to a cheery start, hasn’t it? And what’s it got to do with London?
Well, it’s a pretty good lead-‐in. Or a framing device. To the tale of The Missing English Workman – Is He Extinct?
It’s just anecdotal evidence of course, but you can’t help but ask it if you have the series of “contacts” that I’ve had the last couple of weeks.
They’re tearing up our street. I asked one of the workmen about it. “No speak English.” My reply – to his colleague who did speak a little bit of English – was the standard London one of the last few years, “where are you from in Poland?”
All five of them were Romanian.
A couple days later I’m in the West End and there’s some kind of civil engineering operation going on. Young female worker is positioning one of those laser reflector leveling instruments (at least that’s what I think it was).
I was curious (as always). What were they doing? What’s going up here? So I asked her.
“No speak English.”
She was, I think, Spanish. I didn’t get my question answered but I was sort of relieved that here was at least one Spanish member of her generation who had a job.
A day or two later I’m looking at – and photographing – the Monica Dickens house in Notting Hill Gate for its Blue Plaque. There’s work going on there. Half a dozen workmen. And sure enough, they’re all Polish.
So is the British workman extinct? Seems a fair enough question.
Well, glad to report, he’s not.
Or so I thought – not extinct I mean – for about two syllables.
Jerry’s native tongue is the same (sort of) as mine but five of the ten minutes conversation I had with him were given over to his translating what he’d just said to me.
Jerry’s from Hamilton. In Scotland. It’s west of Glasgow. And believe me, he doesn’t sound like he’s lived down here for 40 years. Sounds like he never left Hamilton. That by the way – I was told this by an Israeli linguist on a walk a few years ago – is a sign of good character. “It means you’re comfortable in your own skin.”
In Jerry’s case the “comfortable in his own skin” factor is coming out the pores, so to speak. Jerry’s two daughters are called Skye (as in the Scottish island) and Piper (as in instrument).
He’s a decorator. “I’m not the best but I’m one of the best.”
Decorator to the stars. There’s a lot of well known actors and artists living in my London patch – West Hampstead – and turns out Jerry’s worked for a lot of them. Indeed, turns out that Six Degrees of Separation is actually only One or Two. Mary’s friends with – indeed has acted with – some of the W. Hampstead thesps Jerry’s decorated for. (Those of you who’ve been on her West Hampstead walk will know who I’m talking about here.)
Jerry’s a character. He’s fun. He’s got a colourful way of speaking. They come out of his mouth like sparks off a grindstone.
“He’s about as useful as an ash tray on a motorbike.”
Or – “I came down here for the sugar.” Translation for the uninitiated: money.
There used to be a bit of old Scottish folk wisdom: Don’t marry money, go where money is.
Homing instinct’s not quite the right expression here, but Jerry’s clearly answered that call of nature.
As have several million other Londoners in this city of immigrants. Of which I’m another one.
Wouldn’t have it any other way. Wouldn’t live anywhere else.
Londoners – they’re the most characterful, the funnest – the most fascinating tribe – on the planet.
I couldn’t be prouder – let alone happier – to number myself among them.
A London Walk costs £9 – £7 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.