I Heart Camden

There is a light outside our house

with a yellow Chinese glow, that at 5 pm on a dark November evening

is the brightest thing around.

There’s a Turkish, a Korean, and a halal chicken shop outside.

Mrs Pickles at No.3 has been to India six times, she tells me every day.

On Brecknock Road we mix it up,

mashed potatoes with vindaloo.

I’ve tried to find my way, learn the streets by heart

but the changing themes keep my head turning.

Mohawk hair, rings on eyebrows, a billboard of the latest flame at Koko.

We’re fashionable. Impressionable.

 

It’s a chilly morning and I’m staring at the rainbow hued lines on the tube map.

New London paces by me on the pavement.

Bengali mother pushing a pram,

ginger-haired teen with his jeans at the hips,

a David Livingstone look-alike with a brolly by his side,

an arguing couple, Polish? Czech? I can’t tell

but we are all here, in thick scarves and jackets.

In designer overcoats. In Primark thermals.

Dorian Grays and Dr. Aziz’s, Stephen Kumalo’s and Mr. Biswas’;

The United Colours of Camden Town.

 

It’s a long, long way from home, but who’d have guessed?

Maybe at the end of the Northern Line I’d climb out to Waiyaki Way?

Want to call Nairobi? Here, 300 minutes, £2.50

England is sold in many languages. The colonies have come to roost.

 

Naija broda at the Sainsbury’s till checks me out,

complains he had to leave his mother home, ill.

How long have you been here, I ask

Long time.

Curry of the Day: Jalfrezi; microwaves in 5 minutes.

Are you going back home? I ask. He shook his head.

Have a nice day. Thanks broda.

 

The Libertines first performed in this venue, says a sign outside a pub.

Flick Haircuts: Afro-Caribbean and European.

Gujarati hardware shops where everything’s for sale,

Kebabish, Pizza Direct, Argos,

Good ol’ fish and chips; cod or sol? salt? vinegar?

 

We crowd to wait for our big red bus; This is the no. 29 to Wood Green;

each of us with a luggage tag on our wrists: Surrey, St. Albans, Sheffield,

Nicosia, Port of Spain, Freetown,

Mombasa.

 

At the World’s End one sits to observe

the etiquette of English pubbing

but on the high street this city never stops.

A couple kisses under the Christmas lights

Somali girls in Eastenders accents,

black cabbies rushing to Islington,

Nepali dad handing out the Evening Standard.

It’s all happening at The Roundhouse tonight.

 

Do you like it in London? The Remembrance Day veteran asked me,

pinning a poppy on my lapel.

My heart and I gave each other a knowing wink.

 

I came here to get lost,

but got found instead.

Always going, always coming.

Discovering. Being discovered.

Looking for England, and finding the whole Empire.

A comfortable strangeness.

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