1 Hans Crescent, Knightsbridge, London, England
Hans Crescent – First Day Sept. 1967
by Fouad Abdul Aziz Al Sakkaf
My companion to the UK was Mr. Mohammed Shamsan Al Baredi.
We arrived London Heathrow in the afternoon via Nairobi on a BOAC flight that was packed by British outgoing army personnel. I was a thin boy. We Adeni Arabs were segregated and put on the first class seating, and of course, without the first class hospitality. We did not feel, think or even bothered about segregation. The flight seemed to be chartered by the British army.
Heathrow, at the time, did not have the passenger facility of walking off the plane to the terminal. We took an airport shuttle bus to passengers terminal. The bus radio was playing: “ Grocer Jack is true what mummy said you won’t came back? “ by Keith West and Teenage Opera. The song remained in my mind and can never be forgotten.
We were received by British Council welcome personnel who took us to Hans Crescent hostel on Knights Bridge. Then the story of exploration began.
After settling in our room we decided to take a walk along Knights Bridge, before it got dark. As we came out from the hostel, we got lost. We could not find our way back to the building, after only a mean 2 minutes! The buildings around us all looked alike. Two walking policemen guided us to the hostel which was just in front of us.
It was the first evening in London and the BBC was airing news of the second civil war between NLF and FLOSY in Mansoura district of Aden. Listening to the sad news, my roommate Mohammed Al Baredi wept like a child. Like me, it was the first time for him to leave country home. He had left behind him in Al Mansora a wife and a newly born baby girl. Times were difficult in Aden. We did not know that the “shatat” (diaspora) just began.
The sound system (public address) reminding residents in the hostel of the opening time of the restaurant for dinner. “Dinner is being served now in the restaurant”.
So, Mohammed and I went to the restaurant following whoever was walking. Assuming that all were for the restaurant, we walked behind an African wearing his overcoat and dragging a suitcase. He was walking out of the hostel. We stopped at the main entrance lobby and asked about the location of the restaurant and we were guided. After we found the restaurant we found an empty bench. The restaurant seating at the times were benches and not respectable dining tables. The seating was collective and similar to reformatory institution seating arrangement.
We sat and sat and sat waiting for the waiter to come to us and take our order. No one showed up and people of all colours and all shapes were eating and eating. The noise of forks and knives and china was filling the air.
We were looking left and right trying to find out what was wrong. We do not know the system. Not yet. An Arabic voice from behind with a gentle tab on the my shoulder: “Are you Arabs?” We said: “Yes”. “From Aden”.
It was Farooq Amman, as we came to know him later, telling us that this is a buffet dinner and we had to help ourselves. So, Mohammed and I, took the queue and filled our plates with lots of meat, steak and kidney pie and a ‘mount’ of mash potatoes. You name it.
Trying to figure out how we would eat our food because we missed the utensils stand. Farooq again came to the rescue and pointed out to take it from the stand on the corner. So we went for the forks and knives. Farooq again asking us: “do you know what you are eating?’’ We replied no. So he said :“what you have on your plates is pig’s meat’’. We left the plates aside and went for a second round with other choices than meat. Fried eggs with beans were safe to pass the night.
Few years ago, I met Farook Amman in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He could
not recall the encounter. The exact day was Friday 29th September 1967.
Long time ago.
First day in Chippenham, Wiltshire – Why are we here?
I reached Chippenham from London Paddington railway station early Monday morning. Dragging behind me one suitcase that was big in British Standards. But I brought with me all that my mum (bless her soul) thought I would need in England. A towel that occupied nearly quarter of the suitcase space and winter clothes (Aden Standard) that proved ineffective to protect me from the British autumn breeze.
Seeing foreigners in London was a thing of the norm and acceptable. But going West country and to a county called Wiltshire is not something normal. In the train, I looked the odd man out and now I was in Chippenham Cocklebury Hill railway station. I took a taxi that could just accommodate my exceptionally large suitcase and the taxi drove me off to the address written on the British Council letter that was given to me in London. Chippenham Further Education College was the destination and it was on the same hill, Cockelbury Hill.
After I have finished my registration with the college, the registrar gave me the address of the temporary lodging that the college have chosen for me; the McKenna’s.
The McKenna’s place was located in Foundry Lane near to the railway station and the railway coal depot. The address signified an unhealthy neighborhood.
I was guided to my room in the house. My companion with the McKenna’s was Victor, a student from Biafra, Nigeria. Victor arrived one day earlier.
I could notice that the house was full with little kids. Too many of them. They all kept looking at Victor and me with suspicion. To them, the only similarity between us and them was that we walked on two legs. With little space for maneuver, we struggled in delivering my suitcase to my room, on the first floor.
It was one English autumn afternoon and the sun was setting down. My room was cold, very cold. There was no central heating in the room like Hans Crescent. There was no heating at all. Hans Crescent by now was the reference for standards in England.
Six o’clock sharp Mr. McKenna shouting from the landing: “Dinner is ready. Come and get it”. I could hear the grinding of his teeth while shouting. “If you do not come down immediately, there will be no food.” I had to hurry down, change my Chinese pyjama that I bought from Wong & Son’s in Ma’alla and wore proper attire for the McKenna’s dinning room.
It took Mr. McKenna a frying pan with a big spoon and a furious temperament to show us, Victor and I, to the table.
I felt sorry for Mr. McKenna and his wife feeding all those kids, one African
and an Arab. Next morning we requested the college to move us out of the McKenna’s before the landlord beat us. Victor moved with a bunch of Biafran students who rented a semi-detached house. I moved to the Rectory with
the Waddelton’s; the Chippenham St. Paul’s Church vicarage. The difference between the McKenna’s and the Waddelton’s was evident.
In my next email I will try to write about : Living in the Rectory. How close was Aden to the Waddelton’s and why Aden was present in the Vicarage.