Features

Coventry blues

A trip to the multicultural Midlands

3 March 2012

2:00 PM

3 March 2012

2:00 PM

He who would see England’s future should be separated for a while from the better parts of London and sent (literally, not metaphorically) to Coventry. There, amid the hideous and dilapidating buildings of a failed modernism, he will see precincts with half the shops boarded up, where youths in hoodies skateboard all day along the walkways, the prematurely aged, fat and crippled unemployed occupy themselves in the search for cheap imported junk in such shops as remain open, and the lurkers, muggers and dealers wait for nightfall.

I stayed four nights in Coventry, in a hotel whose nearest architectural equivalent was the hotel in which I had once stayed in Makhachkala, in ex-Soviet Dagestan. At reception, there were three notices:

SAFE KEYS ARE NOT HELD ON THE PREMISES OVERNIGHT

IMPORTANT NOTICE: NO CASH IS KEPT ON THESE PREMISES OVERNIGHT

THE HOTEL DOES NOT ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY ITEMS LEFT IN THE HOTEL

Thus encouraged, and in need of a drink, I went to the bar called Rogues. At the entrance was another notice: no hoodies or tracksuits. no shorts or baseball caps.


Someone had applied the theories of Lombroso to modes of dress, no doubt correctly.

In the bar, a large screen relayed football and loudspeakers pop music. This meant that anyone who wanted to make himself heard — and there were plenty who did — had to shout. There is nothing quite like shouting to reveal the banality of what is being said.

There were two large banqueting halls (low-ceilinged and claustrophobic despite the size) on the floor on which my bedroom was situated. Every night they filled with hundreds of evangelical Christian Nigerians wailing their sins away, while downstairs in the Rogues’ bar the white men cursed Rio Ferdinand, or some other great man.

Having been recommended a restaurant, I asked at the desk how to get there. ‘You could walk,’ said the receptionist. ‘It takes seven minutes, but I wouldn’t recommend it at this time of night. You could take a taxi, that would be safer, but it also takes seven minutes.’

As it happens, I needn’t have worried about restaurants. Round the corner from my hotel, right in the city centre, was a Chinese restaurant with no menu in English. Thank god for that, I thought, there must be decent food here, and there was, absolutely excellent, even if I had to order it more or less at random. Another night I ate in a Nigerian restaurant — yes, Nigerian. I like pepper soup, even if one is never quite sure what it is made of. And I used to love those little restaurants by the roadside in Nigeria with the notice ‘Food is ready’ and ‘Bushmeat’ outside. Of course, the precise zoological provenance of bushmeat was never actually specified, but practically all large animals are now extinct in Nigeria.

I started to talk to a young Nigerian in the restaurant who asked me how I had come to like Nigerian food. I asked him in turn whether many whites ate there. ‘You’re the first one I’ve ever seen,’ he said. The Nigerian soon explained how it was that in the centre of Coventry, in the shadow of the cathedral, there was a Chinese restaurant with no menu in English and a Nigerian restaurant into which no Englishman ever stepped foot. It was because of the university.

Coventry University has set its cap — very successfully, from the look of it — at Chinese and Nigerian students. There were subjects in which the entire class was Nigerian. There were now so many Nigerians at the university that Nigerians back home wanted to come here. It was like studying abroad without ever leaving home. Ah, there’s multiculturalism for you: a lot of different people living in ghettos.

On my way back to the hotel, I reflected on the strange fact that I felt more at my ease among young Nigerians (so much better-mannered, so much more interesting, alert, lively, unembittered) than among young Britons. I had noticed it many times before, and actually also with the young of many other nations. My wife says that my feeling says something about me, and I suppose she must be right, but surely it must also say something about young Britons?

Back at the hotel, I looked forward to my breakfast the next morning. It is a curious fact of human psychology that if breakfast is included in the price of a hotel you eat it whatever it is like. But in any case, I longed for a vulcanised fried egg with a varnish of transparent fat that makes it so slippery that you have to chase it round the plate with your knife and fork. Self-service, of course, but with a waitress to ask ‘All right?’, dressed in a costume so dishevelled that she looked as if she had narrowly escaped being raped in some polluted blackberry bushes at a bus-stop on her way to work.

Oh to be in England! 

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