Dropped the kids off at school this morning and headed straight for my favourite café run by a Romanian guy called Alex. We chatted about the state of the world whilst his Polish chef got busy preparing me scrambled eggs on sourdough toast. His insights were incisive yet somehow world-weary. I sensed resignation. He talked briefly about his activism back in Romania while he was a university student and how he had wanted to be part of creating a more just and equal society. He had lost hope when he realized that the regime there was too corrupt to change. He then decided to come to the UK. He came with a determination to work hard and a belief that things here would be different. This spacious café with great food and beautiful art on the wall was the result of his years of hard work but he was tired. I asked him about his future plans. He shrugged his shoulders and looked up to the sky with a gesture that spoke volumes. I left thinking about how far he had come since his student days in Romania and whether his weariness was because he sensed what was coming. My next stop was the GP surgery in Archway. I was pleased that I was seeing the German woman doctor who had recently joined the Surgery. She was by far the most compassionate and straight talking of all the doctors there. I talked and she listened and then related my experiences to her own. I appreciated that. It’s not easy for a busy GP to connect in that way. From there I headed to Camden Town to meet with a Slovakian bike mechanic with a wry smile and a passion for cargo bikes. A few years a go he saw a gap in the market and set up a shop dedicated to building and promoting tricycles for Londoners. We struck a good deal over a fresh cup of coffee out the back of his shop. We talked about recent developments and what it meant for him personally. He hesitated but then a slow smile spread across his face and he said “hey if I have to leave this country maybe it will be a blessing in disguise. I could really use a holiday”. We laughed but we both knew that he didn’t mean it. I quickly said my goodbyes and left. I dashed to pick up the kids and get them to their trapeze class at the local community centre. We arrived just in time and were greeted by their French trapeze teacher who is rather severe yet totally dedicated to her craft. She doesn’t do ‘politeness’ so if she says something positive you know she means it. I like that. Me and the kids were starving at this point so we went home and I made a bowl of steaming bean stew inspired by my Turkish Cypriot friend’s mother!
Many of the people with whom I connected to today or who inspired me in some way were born elsewhere in Europe. At some point in their lives they had decided to cross our borders and bring with them their vision, their hard work and their cultural differences. I am grateful that they had the courage to make the journey and I am sad that despite their years of hard work, they feel on less solid ground than ever.