The Melting Pot

The Melting Pot

09 June 2011

Time to whip out and bandy about the good old multicultural clichés: a melting pot of colour, race, culture, sexuality and religion, a fantastic metropolitan, a haven for all and sundry. All are welcome. Nowhere else can you feel just so comfortable with your own identity, no matter how eclectic or unusual. In fact, here, unusual is the new usual. Being different is the norm.

London. I love it.

All the melting pot clichés have been used, time and time again, to describe this wonderful city; yet it was only today that I fully realised the truth in these banalities.

A common enough situation, somehow simultaneously completely mundane yet utterly striking.

A coach journey, from London to the Midlands.

It was a normal, busy Monday morning at Victoria Coach Station. As usual, my paranoid fear of missing transport bookings compelled me to march at full speed from the underground and arrive, a full 15 minutes early, hot and red and sweaty at the coach station. And, as usual, my coach was delayed by 20 minutes. I settled down on one of those hard metal seats and happily whiled away 35 minutes by musing on the possible range of reactions I would have produced HAD I been late and missed my coach.

Boarding time. Coat, check. Handbag, check. Laptop, wheelie case, ticket – check, check, check. I narrowly avoided Death by Pigeon and being run over by a huge suitcase being erratically dragged along by an even huger man, and managed to board the coach without major incident. I settled down (laptop – check, handbag – check) and plugged into my earphones.

It was then that, with the distracting noises of the world drowned out by the dulcet rock of 30 Seconds to Mars and the underlying droning hum of the powerful coach engines, I was able to look around and register what I was seeing.

In all the seats within my visual field, no two were occupied by comparable individuals.

Next to me, an old English lady, prim and proper, clutching her Radley handbag with delicate hands on her plaid lap, and frowning disapprovingly at my phone when it momentarily blared out Jared Leto’s screaming chorus after I mistakenly pulled out the earphone cord mid-song. Directly in front, two girls roughly my age, complete opposites to each other. On the left, short and very dark-skinned, full-lipped, with a shock of beautiful honey-coloured curls on her head. On her right, tall, similar facial features, but with skin paler than my own, and light blonde curls bound tightly in wavy cornrows.

In front of them, a chubby woman, fair skinned with blacker-than-black hair scraped into a tight ponytail, shushing and rocking a gurgling baby who seemed determined to stay awake.

Opposite, a young couple talked and laughed softly. He was a well-built deep-voiced black guy, tenderly playing with his partner’s hand, a beautiful pale petite girl of Far Eastern origins. Like the night and the day – sorry, another cliché.

In front of them, a lanky Asian lad wearing an oversized slogan tee with massive headphones slung around his neck and a baseball cap perched on his head at what I’m sure he believed was a jauntily cool angle. Next to him, an elderly Jamaican man, talking animatedly in a strong accent and fiddling continuously with his seatbelt.

And then there was me. A pale girl of indeterminate ethnic origin listening to rock music under her headscarf, nondescript brown eyes hidden behind black-rimmed glasses surveying those around.

It was a quietly brilliant moment. These incredibly different people, each with unique stories and pasts, their lives temporarily converged and in parallel on this vehicle, bearing each to varied divergent futures. For a few short hours, this diverse group of individuals are brought together within the confinement of a journey hurtling along the M1.

"And We have made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another" Quran

Nobody really spoke to each other (apart from the Jamaican granddad, who spent the entire journey speaking very loudly about his life, to nobody in particular). Nobody bothered finding out who their neighbour really was. There was no conversation, no questions. There was the odd polite glance and smile, but that was about it. Everybody (again, with the exception of the talkative Jamaican man) left that coach as much strangers to each other as they had been when they first boarded a few hours earlier.

Yet there we were, sharing space and time, silently acknowledging and respecting each other’s differences and personal spaces.

As the coach wound its way through North London and trundled on to the motorway, I could only smile to myself and turn to stare out the window.

London truly is a melting pot of colour, race, culture, sexuality and religion, a fantastic metropolitan, a haven for all and sundry.

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