I’ve been living since mid-May in a room in a shared flat, just across the river from work; it’s one of forty-odd apartments in a small block, near the railway line from Waterloo. The other inhabitants are a very mixed bunch, about half from the British Isles and half from pretty much all over the world. It’s quite a sociable block, largely I think because a lot of the people living there are families with kids, and all the kids play together after school, rushing about in the area where the washing lines and parking spaces are. Listening to the adults talk, one hears a myriad different accents; but all the children sound the same – just indeterminate cheerful west London kids’ voices.
Yesterday evening I was cooking supper with the kitchen window open, and a heated conversation was going on outside between two of the kids. It started off being about whether the FBI were the bad guys or not (poor old FBI, there was a time they would automatically have been the heroes). Someone wanted to be a bad FBI man, and they couldn’t decide if that meant he was a rengrenade (“You mean renegade!” “No I don’t, I mean rengrenade!”) or not – he wanted to be able to shoot people before they shot him, which apparently only bad guys do. The problem seemed to be that if the FBI are the bad guys, then a renegade FBI man is actually a good guy (while a rengrenade sounds like a very dangerous guy indeed). Incidentally I wasn’t really eavesdropping; they’re kids – they shout.
Once they’d sorted that out, things went something like this:
Child 1: But can I shoot you? Please!
Child 2: Okay, okay, you’re a bad guy then.
Child 1: Yeah! (Passable fake American accent) I’m Jake Walker, FBI, you’re harbouring a fugitive!
Child 2: (No attempt at accent) Don’t shoot!
Child 1: Does Hannibal Lecter live here?
Child 2: No! He’s gone away!
Child 1: Where’d he go, asshole?
Child 2: He went on hajj!
Child 1: You’re lying! He’s a Nazi! I’ll get you, asshole! Bang! Bang, bang!
Child 2: Aargh! I’ll get you, I’ll get you! Bang, bang! Aiee!
(Various bangs and thumps).
Child 2: Banzai!
Child 1: Expelliamus!
I looked out of the window at this point. Child 1 had a water pistol and a wooden spoon for a wand; child 2 had a piece of garden cane for a samurai sword. There’s nothing like a really imaginative fighting game. I’m sure I ought to disapprove, but they were using their imaginations, and rushing about getting lots of exercise in the open, and getting wet; and they were having a great time.
What I really loved, though, was the wild mixture of cultural references, and the way each of them knew exactly what was going on. I caught at least six different themes in that game, and there may have been more that I missed.
It’s one of the big pluses of living in a city; saccharine terms like “multi-culturalism” and “melting pot” become dynamic and thriving realities. And the children, at least, seem to be totally at home with it.
Of course there are plenty of other reasons why I love London; it's really rather a fine city in many ways, despite the noise and the grubbiness. I do like having a choice of about eight different cinemas within half an hour by bus. And being on the doorstep of world-class opera, ballet, concerts, theatres and galleries. And seeing people I admire in the street doing normal things like carrying their own groceries. And I do love Kew, funnily enough!