My hair was getting in my eyes, so a visit to the snipper was due. This little town has become the capital of haircutters, so I strolled along the old street, avoiding the temptation of the coffee shops and trying to work out who to hand my money over to. There’s the cool dude with tattoos who does women and men and who trained somewhere special and has worked in places such as Sydney, so his prices are high and his last cut didn’t sit well on my scalp. As usual, I walked past the guy who looks sharp and attracts sharp looking guys and doesn’t display his prices.
Always a sucker for people from afar, and liking the Kurds I’ve met, I decided on the flashy new addition to this little street. Unlike the other two tasteful establishments, it’s the sort of gaudy place you avoid in such a quaint Georgian town - bright primal colours, huge gold coloured sinks, plastic photos of the sort of cuts I don’t want stuck outside, you wonder how they got planning permission when we’ve been having trouble erecting a fence. The prices were low so in I went and out I walked with a fine haircut. I’d also enjoyed myself.
“Love Somerset,” the Kurdish man had said as he cut away. “I work Leeds, busy; Newcastle very busy; here calm.”
Our friendly conversation was limited by his misunderstanding me, but rolled along and I found I liked him. When I said, for example, that we Europeans originated near his home area, he said, “Oh women come too,” meaning, I assume, that photos of just male immigrants don’t give the whole picture.
I asked if he’ll go back to live in Kurdistan and his face fell. “Here peace. There not know if dead.”
I said how sad it was that such noble people as his have for so long been dominated by others. “Turkey not good to us, Iran badder, Iraq now big mess. All want Kurdistan oil, gas, many thing. Kurdish people rubbish to them.”
I thought the borders might have been drawn better by the British and Russians in 1918 and he said, “They countries come shoot us, say we Sunni, say we Shia, say we no religion, shoot, shoot. We Christian, Shia, Sunni, Zorastran, everything. We not talk about religion. We live together, normal. ”
I suggested our Iraq invasion made things worse for his people. He retorted, “NO! Sadam bad, bad, bad, BAD! Now only bad.”
I asked if he felt we were racist here in Britain, as this is a constant discussion. “NO! Yes, everywhere racist, but here, no problem.”
Racism to us is a huge issue, but to him it hardly exists in Britain, for we all rub along, and this made me think of our recently installed Prime Minister. I haven’t heard or read anything negative about his being of Asian descent, Savid Javid was accepted without question, as is Sadiq Khan the mayor of London; we admire and love people of all colours. Amongst my own friends are people from various parts of the world and backgrounds, it isn’t an issue I’ve really thought about. We take people as characters, not as this race or that.
I said how lucky we in the West are, life is easy, though we don’t think it is and he went on to say, “Here, drive work nobody shoot me, at work I safe, at home I sleep. There everyone frightened to die, sleep no good. All day sad, people dead, life hard. Here paradise!”
I said there was hardship for certain people in Britain and he laughed and laughed, “People safe, people eat, people have house, people no killing other people. Bad life here is good life in other country.”
I said there were people without jobs, people on the dole and he laughed again. “Here people tell, I no work. I say, me, my many friend find work.”
It made me think of when, as a young man, I did any job going, lugging loads on building sites, sweeping factory floors, scrapping paint off ship’s hulls.
He continued, “English people say: I poor. I say, poor here more rich than my family.”
Beyond cosy Britain and Europe, there is no safety net. For some years in Kenya, my mother couldn’t afford to buy us clothes or shoes so we wore hand-me-downs which didn’t fit properly. We kept moving house until we ended up in a cheap place on a farm. We didn’t have a holiday until I was sixteen and then it was in a borrowed shack in a scruffy village near the coast. When I left home and moved to London, my first UK wage was nine pounds a month, eight other guys and I lived in a three bedroomed house, my spot being one of two tatty old mattresses on the dining-room floor. I couldn’t afford buses, so walked everywhere.
He laughed so hard he had to put down his scissors, “Here everyone live like royalty. Even poorest people!”
We assume we’ve got it hard. We complain about shades of grey but forget that most people in the world would be delighted with what we call difficulties. That’s our problem, even our lowest standard of living in Europe is better than kings of yore, but we want more and there’s more of us and so the poor planet is suffering. I walked over to the mini supermarket. By the till I stood next to an unemployed man I know and we both joked about shopping for the evening meal and I couldn’t help hearing that he paid over four times as much as me because everything in his basket was junk-food, processed, whereas mine was raw ingredients. That’s often why people feel poor, burgers, fizzy drinks, sweet puddings are expensive, local potatoes aren’t. Those products are expensive for the planet too, and think of all that wasteful packaging.