Stratford, E London, 2009
At this time I was teaching in a small college dedicated to ‘teaching the unteachable’ – 16 to 19 year old teenagers that had been excluded from other colleges and were in danger of being left NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training).
The college was very proud of its ‘diversity’ displays in the corridors but, in truth, it was the least diverse place I have ever worked. The ethnic mix of students was predominantly Bengali Muslims with a handful of black Christians. There were two, yes two, white pupils.
Students were late or absent on a daily basis, often having been arrested the night before for a violent incident of one sort or another. Listening to their conversations, it seemed they had no value for life.
“Yeah, he was stabbed, innit?”
“Did Abs mash him?”
“Yeah blud, dead.”
“He disrespected Abs innit?’
The students self-segregated by gender, by religion and by race. The Bengali Muslims hated the black Christians. They were seen as the lowest of the low and many Bengalis wouldn’t sit near them, work with them, or even touch anything they had touched. I learned this on one notable day during my first week there.
I naively asked the students to swap their work so they could mark each other’s answers (a common assessment strategy approved of by OfstEd). I swapped a few reluctant students’ work and all hell broke loose. One of the Bengali lads shouted he wouldn’t touch the black girl’s work. She exploded in rage and, within seconds, I had a full-on bar-room brawl. Tables and chairs were flying everywhere, girls were screaming and punches were being thrown. I got myself between the two in the centre, received a number of blows, but still managed to separate them. The girl raced out of the classroom and many followed her into the hallway, where numerous phone calls were made to notify ‘crews’ from other classes (and even neighbouring areas) to join the fight.
Every member of staff had to intervene to separate the crowds and settle the different groups and segregate them into different classrooms. All lessons were suspended for the day.
That was my first true taste of London’s vibrant diversity. I didn’t feel stronger for it, nor enriched. I felt terrified.
Fast-forward a few months; the students and I had formed a precarious mutual respect. They knew I followed through with my threats, that I was “bare strict man”, but they also knew that I was a good teacher, and that I wanted them to achieve. Some of them were even beginning to enjoy learning.
In the middle of one lesson, a text message alert was heard, then another, then another. Soon almost everyone in the class had their phones in hand reading the same text. “EDL outside Green Lanes mosque. Get here now”.
It’s unbelievable to think that at that point, I had never heard of the English Defence League or Tommy Robinson. I asked the pupils what was going on. Ignoring me, the lads left. One turned back, showed me the text and said: “Sorry sir, gotta go and smash some white boys, no offence.”
Other bemused teachers met in the corridor where we informed each other of what was happening. Most Bengali Muslim lads, and even a teacher, left the building to go and fight the EDL. College management did nothing.
Not long afterwards, I was full to the brim with my newly acquired enrichment and vibrant diversity. After my daily walk from Stratford station to the college, I’d been spat at a number of times. I walked into work only to be met by a student threatening to have me killed. “One of his boys” was going to wait in a car outside and shoot me when I came to school in the morning or when I went home in the afternoon. The management did exclude the student, but for a couple of weeks I had to arrive and leave at different times, so that I didn’t have a routine. I wanted to contact the police, but the college told me it would bring negative publicity.
The daily walk to and from the station became unbearable. I had no idea if that guy over there, or that bloke outside the shop, or those lads talking together had guns or knives. I had no idea who might kill me and who might to spit at me, or call me a filthy kuffar under their breath.
Eventually, living and working in London got to me. You see, London is not English anymore. It hasn’t been English for a long time. John Cleese is correct. London is another country. Somewhere ‘other’. Go to Wood Green shopping centre and you won’t hear English spoken anywhere. Go to Walthamstow market and you won’t see any of the “Pound a bowl!” barrow boys that used to sell fruit and veg. The last Eastend ‘Pie n Mash’ shop is barely frequented and you won’t find fish n chips unless you go to Toffs out in Muswell Hill, and take out a small mortgage for some Dover Sole. London is now Shisha bars, hair weave salons, Pakistani takeaways and Polski Skleps. Sadiq Khan says “London is open”. So open and welcoming that there’s no longer any room for the English.
Within a few weeks of being threatened with death, I joined the tens of thousands of white people who have abandoned London and I walked away. I left my flat in East London, where a girl was raped outside my window and a man was stabbed to death in my doorway. I left behind the ‘Sharia Zone’ stickers and the racial abuse. No longer would I be pushed off tube-trains because I was white. No longer would I be fearful walking home. No longer would I be afraid of students rioting, killing or dying. I came home to the North. Back to England.
London has been lost.