London – New Impressions

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By B. Ramlallah

I am writing this on the eve of our departure from London for a tour of Oxford, Birmingham, and Bristol.

These places are new to me. I hasten to write my impressions of London because they are still fresh in my mind; I fear they might be overshadowed by my impressions of the new places.

I do not know how my friend, de Sornay, who is on his second visit to England, feels about London but to me, seeing London for the second time is as thrilling as when I first saw it. Although quite familiar with the place, knowing the names of various squares and buildings, I have a strange feeling that these places are entirely new to me. I seem to both know and not know at the same time!

London has changed a great deal since my last visit in 1953. To start with, London airport itself has been completely transformed. It has been enlarged, and new elegant buildings have been erected. The highways have been improved, and new roads constructed.

Several new towns on the outskirts of London, initiated under the Labour government, have now taken shape. On the bombed sites, huge rectangular-shaped 10 to 15-storey buildings have been erected.

Fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat abound in shops. There are more jobs than there are hands. Several papers devote columns and columns to advertising “Situations Vacant”. Throughout London, notices marked “Wanted” hang about lazily. To attract candidates, salaries and conditions are printed in the advertisement columns; this practice was not common formerly. I am providing a few examples of the salaries offered to prospective candidates.

– Fashion and legal secretaries wanted at £12 per week.

– Girls and boys of 16 who have attempted the GCE in at least English and Mathematics wanted as junior clerks with a City insurance company, commencing salary £305 p.a. at 16. Free luncheon, five-day week.

– Women and girls wanted by GPO for training as telephonists; three weeks paid holiday, from £4.6.6 at 15 to £11.3 at 25; additional allowance of £1.5.3 to French speakers.

– Vacant 120 pensionable posts for Customs and Excise officers for men aged 18 to 22: qualifications required GCE in English, mathematics, science, and two other subjects – Salary £477.10 (£610 at 21, £740 at 25) to £1,330.

– Resident maids £6.5.9 for 44 hours p.w.

– Foreman stove enamel shop £1,000 p.a.

– Shorthand typist up to £12 p.w.

– Unskilled laborers earn up to £9 per week for 43 hours of work. Almost all factories, departmental stores, and large printing establishments have canteen facilities, i.e., the meals are subsidized by the management. Workers get a meal or tea at half price: a lunch for 9d and tea for 2d.

In 1953, during my seven-month stay, I saw only one coloured man working in an underground station. Now, not only men but colored women too, by the hundreds, are seen on the underground and in the buses. This is a very happy sign. I remember a few years ago when an Indian was employed as a bus driver, the English drivers struck. It is amazing how things have changed. So far, I have not seen any coloured policeman. I don’t know whether there are any.

Another very apparent and noteworthy thing is that soot has almost disappeared. The sky is brighter than in 1953. I had to change my collar every day because it got soiled easily.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 came fully into force on 1st June 1958. It made it an offence to cause the emission of dark smoke or to fail to provide industrial premises with equipment to arrest grit and dirt. Smoke from chimneys is treated before it is emitted. One can see clear white smoke coming from these huge chimneys, which used to release black smoke. Coke is treated with a solution that prevents it from producing black smoke. And so, London now has its smokeless sky. The Conservative Government has firmly imposed the law, although most of the factories belong to Conservatives.

* * *

I don’t think England has ever been so prosperous as it is now. There is an abundance of food, and it is rather cheap too. Eggs at 3d to 5d, tomatoes at 8 to 9d.

The amount of food wasted is tremendous. From what I have seen in various restaurants and private homes, the amount of food wasted in London could feed the entire population of Mauritius. People are spending as much as they are earning. The pubs, restaurants, cinemas, theaters, and entertainment centers are packed to capacity. Every day, numerous touring coaches either come to London or leave for the counties with gay holidaymakers. Though the Londoner likes to spend his money, he generally spends it intelligently. The English cherish family life; they will buy an expensive pram for their baby or a washing machine for their wife. Though hundreds of thousands of people drink their pint of beer or ale in the afternoon, I have not seen anybody drunk. One rarely finds such things in London.

During our visit to the Crawley new town development project last week, I was asked what struck me most about the UK. I said that everything was well-planned, whether it was a factory or a function, that the population was the most courteous and cooperative, and that many Englishmen and women work and live for an ideal – whether that ideal is to free the Kikuyus of the Hola Camp or to make all Britain atheist. Their ideals are quite sensible and embody common sense. Being a practical nation, they live and work for the upliftment of their country, and there are thousands who sacrifice themselves for the upliftment of the downtrodden millions of Africa, Asia, and other underdeveloped countries.

The Englishman is a great traditionalist and a hero-worshipper. That does not mean that he burns incense at the feet of the statues of his great men and women or basks in the sun of ancient glory or past achievements. He adores his great men because first, it is part of his mental makeup to be grateful in a fitting way, and secondly, he draws inspiration from the great deeds of his heroes.

* * *

There are at least three categories of people from the colonial territories who visit London. First, there are the students and workers who come here either to study or to work and have an occasional sightseeing. Then there are the civil servants and other visitors who visit England for a few months and go on a sightseeing spree, visiting chain stores and public institutions. Finally, there are the rare official tours arranged for overseas visitors. These are normally conducted tours. That does not mean that the guests are led by the nose and made to see what institutions the hosts think is fit to be seen. It’s then that you can fully understand the genius of the English and the greatness that has gone into making their country.

After having seen the great achievements of this nation, which only a decade ago was shattered by a deadly war, we Mauritians feel like pigmies. The somebody of Mauritius is a nobody here. Besides specialization, which is part and parcel of the British temperament, the average Englishman has vast knowledge of the world. You will be surprised to know how well-versed the top people are in world affairs. Our liaison officer, Mr Bugton, has been in the army in Palestine and in the Civil Service in Malaya. He knows a bit of Hebrew, Arabic, Malay, and Chinese. Two heads of division of the BBC sitting by my side could speak Hindustani fluently. One told me that he used to read Arya Vir (a Mauritian paper) regularly. One of our lady chauffeurs has travelled extensively, as a ballet dancer. Her knowledge of Turkey, Assam, Malaya, China, and Japan is amazing.

What makes the greatness of England is that there is continuity in its history. The process of building is steadily continuing. On the accumulated wisdom of hundreds of years, new ideas are added. The edifice is going higher and higher.

Now there is competition next door. Every European country is trying to surpass its neighbour. There is a race for supremacy in all fields. In many sectors, there is a free interchange of ideas and findings. And when we come to see all that, we realize how great is the world, how fast it is moving, how petty personal jealousies and quarrels over trivial things appear. In such an atmosphere, Mauritians quarreling over small foolish things look like kids fighting among themselves as to who should stand at the top of a queue or quarreling for a marble!

6th Year – No 265
Friday 11th September 1959

Reaching London

By B. Ramlallah

Splendid was the weather upon our arrival at London Airport, where a plane lands approximately every five minutes. To witness people from every corner of the world, one must visit for a fortnight during the summer, and they will be astounded by the diverse influx: individuals of varying colours, races, nationalities, adorned in assorted costumes and conversing in a plethora of languages. The recent expansion of London airport, including the new station and Control Tower, stands as an imposing piece of architecture, annually attracting about a million sightseers. Upon landing, we were graciously welcomed by Mr W. Forsdick of the Colonial Office and Mr H. William Voigt of the COI on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Following swift customs formalities, we were escorted in two grand cars to the new air station.

On the second floor overlooking the airfield, Fortes operates a vast restaurant where all of us, including the other two officials, enjoyed a hearty lunch. Amidst our meal, discussions revolved around our journey and the weather. Sornay and I, on our second visit to London, inevitably shared our impressions of the considerable changes since our last visit. Subsequently, we were chauffeured to our hotel, the Royal Court Hotel in Sloane Square, S.W.I, unaware of any prior arrangements regarding our stay or itinerary.

Contrary to the norm of being transported to the BOAC station by their coach, we were driven directly to our hotel by the Colonial Office car. Delighted to traverse familiar roads, we passed through Osterley, catching a glimpse of the renowned Indian Gymkhana Club, where I first met Mr. Nehru at a garden party hosted by the then Indian High Commissioner, the late BG Kher. Passing through Hammersmith, memories of the West London Hospital, where I received outpatient treatment, flooded back. Olympia, where I attended at least five exhibitions in 1953, also caught my eye. The mention of West Cromwell Road evoked numerous happy memories, as I had resided near Earlscourt for several months. While speeding through the street, I was overcome with emotion, peering out in vain for familiar faces, especially those of Mauritian friends I used to meet in the area. For a fleeting moment, I relived one of the happiest moments of my life; it was overwhelming to return to that place again.

Upon arrival at the hotel, Peter Ibbotson eagerly awaited us, whom I introduced to the other members of the delegation. Accompanying Peter to my room, we were soon joined by a couple of Mauritian friends who seemed privy to our whereabouts. Presenting Ibbotson with a fruit-de-cythère pickle sent by my wife and a bird carved from oxhorn purchased at Sunassee’s Tourist Shop, his delight was palpable. Engaging in conversation for over an hour, we eventually dined at the hotel. Fatigued from the journey, I opted to stay in for the evening, noticing the warmth persisting even as night descended. After Peter departed, I gazed out the window to witness thousands of people leisurely strolling the streets, parks, gardens, and squares.

6th Year – No 264
Friday 4th September 1959

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 15 March 2024

An Appeal

Dear Reader

65 years ago Mauritius Times was founded with a resolve to fight for justice and fairness and the advancement of the public good. It has never deviated from this principle no matter how daunting the challenges and how costly the price it has had to pay at different times of our history.

With print journalism struggling to keep afloat due to falling advertising revenues and the wide availability of free sources of information, it is crucially important for the Mauritius Times to survive and prosper. We can only continue doing it with the support of our readers.

The best way you can support our efforts is to take a subscription or by making a recurring donation through a Standing Order to our non-profit Foundation.
Thank you.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *