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الدكتور عبدالله السياري

أسرة التحرير
الدكتور شهاب غانم
(ألامارات المتحدة)
أشرف جرجره
ب.ع. آداب، ب.ع. تدريس

أشرف جرجره

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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.Hans Cresecent London copy

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.

Alumnus Farooq Murshid wrote about Hans Crescent experiene:

I visited London in 2010. I went to see Hans Crescent. It is now rented as as luxorious suites.

I met to the security guard and asked him in a very polite manner, and told  him that I lived inside 1 Hans Crescent for almost 4 years. He first did not appreciate my language, and then in Fluent Arabic he replied that he was French/Algerian who couldn’t speak good English.  Imagine putting someone like him guarding such an building.
Apparantly, Hans Cresecent was first converted  in 2005 into an inner London Council Court. On my trip to London in 2010, it was converted into expensive flats.

One beautiful point raised by my beloved friend Fuad by saying he was lost on the first day. I was lost too, and entered Harrods as all the buildings looked alike.

I usually visit London on a very important missions.
My work is involved with Cromwell Hospital.
To my absolute surprise, the hospital made me forget that I was in London. It is run mostly by foreigners from the Phillipines as paramedics, and Eastern Europe as doctors.

I asked myself ‘Where was the good old Londoners with black suite, black hat, umbrella and the TIMES or the Guardian in hand.

Alumnus Farook Aman commented on the story of Al Skkaf about Hans Crescent.

You are luckier than I am. I did not have an opportunity to see Hans Crescent, when I was visiting London.

In any case, my visits were often short, usually heading thereafter to another European city or to the Middle East.

 In addition, London has become prohibitively
expensive. About 20 years ago, perhaps more, I stayed at the Sheraton Park Tower in Knightsbridge. The single room rate was then over 300 pounds a night. Breakfast was 25 pounds, a taxi ride, 
expensive! I thought I would have a better deal to go to Edgeware Road and have breakfast there. Foul Modamas and humous + tea for two, cost 33 pounds+ tip, plus taxi ride.  I said never again!!

Ra'ah Allah zaman when I received 29 pounds as monthly bursary to cover all my necessities. THE French Charles Degaulle was refusing the UK to enter the (then) EEC, and at the time, he threatened that will never happen as long as he was alive. However, the British Authorities at the time were persisting until they achieved their lousy goal. Hence, overnight, the cost of living soared to new unbelievable heights after UK entered the EEC and the poor British citizens  suffered while foreigners swarmed London and took it over!

The Algerian security guard you talked to at Hans Crescent had no idea what was the nostalgic history the place had for many, such as yourself. True what they say that London has been hijacked by foreigners. Hence the evidence of what you experienced lately at the Cromwell Hospital. Who knows what will become of London in a decade or more?!

In his reply to Farooq Murshid and Fouad Abdul Azziz Al Sakkaf, alumnus Farook Aman wrote:

I returned back to Aden in Sept 1970, and could only manage once to go back to see Hans Crescent. I used to visit London a few times a year for several years after 1980. When I walked that one time to the Crescent, I stood across the street from the address for a few moments and my memory took me back, reminiscing. Sadly, the building, was already converted to what looked like a diplomatic mission. it was evident that the familiar unshaven faces of foreign students  had long gone ! 

Hans Crescent did not look the same to me ! I dragged my feet slowly and walked down the Crescent towards Sloan Street, turned left to walk to the end of the street leading to Hyde Park. That short walk brought back pleasant memories. I passed the building where my dentist's office was located. I remembered the fearful moments when the dentist filled my teeth with silver fillings in 1967. I still have the fillings until now. They are intact to this very day. Talk about quality professional dental work. Absolutely free of charge.

After my graduation, and before departing to Aden, I remember, at the time, that there was rumour circulating that Hans Crescent neighbours were lobbying hard to have the place changed to avoid seeing foreign students loitering in the street and residing in a high class neighbourhood such as Knightsbridge. They did not want to see any more blacks, browns, Asians students etc walking down that Crescent.

Security was not the issue at the time. Nevertheless, reluctantly but realistically, I have to admit that I am all for that decision, because I saw how some of the foreign students perceived things in the manner they chose to conduct their respective life style. They had end of exams parties, Christmas, etc, involving
alcohol, chasing girls, loud deafening Caribbean and African dance music. That constituted disturbance of the peace, created in that quiet neighbourhood. I am sure there must had been many complaints, and one more complaint must eventually broke the camel's back. I believe that for the sake of maintaining sanity of the wealthy residents and to maintain the value of their real estate that a  decision had to be made.

I remember too that at the break of the 6 days war in June 1967, Harrod's elite and wealthy clients  convened an emergency meeting at Harrod's which  last pasted until mid night. A handsome and hefty donation amount was announced the very next day for Israel. It was well over a 100 Millions pounds. It was collected in just few hours. You should have seen the models of the luxurious vehicles that were lined up by those clients. The cars were parked and filled every inch of the neighbourhood around Harrod's. Rolls Royce, Austin Martins, Rovers, Jaguars to name a
few. Some had dressed up drivers awaiting the arrival of their respective bosses from that meeting. I remember that evening very distinctly as I admired those vehicles and wondered why so many were

No doubt, it was certainly a classy neighbourhood with honourable residents discreetly saying to their souls: there is little or no room for those foreign students to be living in this neighbourhood. They must go. I suppose if I were to own a property there, I probably would have felt the same. Wouldn't you?

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