I heard a devastating interview on Radio 4 today with a young Syrian lad who'd fled the civil war in his homeland and spent two years in the migrant jungle at Calais before finally being given the chance to come to the UK under a scheme which allowed unaccompanied young people asylum if they already had family here. His dream was to enrol in English classes, but couldn't do so until he was granted the right to remain, which took many months.
The poor lad was desperate to learn English and contacted scores of people on MSN, whom he deduced, from their names, were English nationals. The messages said that he was a Syrian refugee and that he was looking for friends who would help him to practice English. Not a single person replied. I was driving at the time and had to pull over because I was weeping so much.
On the tube on the way home last night I found myself suddenly surrounded by a gang of young men. I instantly found myself feeling a little vulnerable, but instead of running into another carriage, decided to hold my ground and sit it out. Actually, by staying, I leaned a great lesson in not judging a book by its cover. The lad who'd plonked himself next to me nudged me and told me how much he liked my moustache. He then asked where I was from. "You mean where in the world, or where in London?" It's a question most Londoners ask when asked where they're from. "Where in the world" he said, "you don't look English..." So I gave my stock response about being a bit Welsh and having all sorts of Jewish and non-specific European blood floating about in my veins. "Guess where I'm from" he said. It was obvious. "Somalia" I said. His face lit up and he held out his hand for a fist pump. I obliged. "How did you know I was from Somalia? When I ask that question to most people they say Africa, like Africa is a country." I explained that I'd done some work with the Somalian community whilst working on a BBC film. He held his hand up for another fist pump. I obliged, neglecting to reveal that the film I was making was about female genital mutilation. I felt that was perhaps a little outside the terrain of small talk! So I asked him instead where he was off to. He was going clubbing in Camden. Another fist pump. I wasn't sure what that one was about. He complimented me on my moustache again and we chatted for a while about his childhood. He was born in Sweden and had come to the UK at the age of one. He was a very friendly young man and I felt terrible for ever having thought he might be trouble. I think perhaps from now on I shall endeavour to be less judgemental about the young gangs I encounter.
This evening, we went to see an evening of Shakespeare at St Cuthbert's Church in Earls Court. It's a really interesting, very dark and gloomy space, with dark, intricate carved woodwork panels stretching high into the roof. It's the perfect setting for theatre. Abbie had directed the show, and I was incredibly proud of her for pulling such a complicated programme together with such extraordinary panache. Half of the material had been filmed and projected onto a giant screen, and there were some genuinely marvellous moments which included a male rendition of Lady MacBeth's "out damned spot" monologue and a very dark interpretation of "now is the winter of our discontent" from Richard III. I was staggered to learn afterwards that the actor who'd done this particular speech was actually blind.
We had to leave fairly hastily after the show to get to Maida Vale where my friend Matt was celebrating his birthday. It was a veritable gathering of the old crowd. Until Kevin's death we were almost constantly in each other's pockets but in recent years haven't had the chance to get together very often. That said, I spent most of the evening talking to a lovely lass called Clare who had recently found the mother who'd given her up for adoption in the early 70s. It's all very new ground for her, and I sensed a fair amount of fear and trepidation. Obviously it's a subject I'm very familiar with, and I was able to provide her with a bit of a sounding board and offer a few insights into the sorts of emotions which might be bombarding her birth mother as the two of them discover each other once again.
We stayed out much later than perhaps we should have done, but we were having way too much fun to leave at a sensible time.