Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By Peter Pan
Never before, I fancy, the influx of colonial people in London has been as steady as it has been during the past five or six years.
As a matter of fact, one daily comes across thousands of Jamaicans, Nigerians, West Indians, Indians, Mauritians, etc., in the most popular areas of London, to wit, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus, Hyde Park, Madame Tussaud, London Museum, University of London, Colonial Office, Mauritius Bureau, not to speak of places of worldwide repute like Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, with Big Ben towering high in the air, and the Thames flowing by under a grey, dull sky…
This influx of people coming from all corners of the Commonwealth is gradually causing grave concern to the population and Government of Britain; and so, before you come here we would rather brush up the complete picture for you so that you might not be too disappointed like so many – during your short stay here.
Is Britain a really hospitable place?
In a large degree, yes. But… But, let us add that this hospitality has been of late exploited to the full. Apparently too many people think that Britain is simply a modern Eldorado where you get everything free of charge: namely the dole, health services, free dentures, glasses, family allowance, etc.
Although one enjoys many benefits here, yet on the whole one steadily learns that nothing really is obtained free of charge. From personal experience, I know that you cannot get glasses or hearing aids unless you pay at least £1 and very often as much as £3 to £4!.
At one time, dentures were issued free of charge. Today you have to pay for same. Health services too are not really free: you actually pay a nominal charge for each drug prescribed by the doctor on his prescription; and very few doctors would prescribe here costly things like rimifon, cortisone or tonics like Sanatogen or Neo-Vita.
In the long run, we are afraid that casual visitors here will not get free dental treatment, still less specialised treatment at Barts or Guy’s hospital for nothing. Why? Simply because most visitors here have exploited fully the elastic scheme, so much so that of late it has been fairly difficult for some colonial visitors to be readily admitted in State hospitals.
How goes the cost of living?
It is indeed very hard to give a neat and straightforward answer to that question, for most people do not fall in the same economic or social bracket.
Broadly speaking, the bachelor who likes his cigarettes, his drinks, plus some fun every weekend, — cinema, dancing, theatre – should be able to live easily on about £8-10 to £9 per week. Incidentally, most students have to cope with no more than £5 to $6 per week. One friend of mine confessed that he could not afford more than £4 every week, and by that time he was preparing his BSc (Econ)!…
The married man, with a wife and one or two kids to support, must reckon with a minimum of about £9-10 to £10 per week. And if his wife does not work, it can be a real hardship for him to make both ends meet, as jobs of £10 per week are hard, pretty hard to get.
The major issue: Jobs!
This is the moot point! Apparently, most people at home think that it is very easy to get a good, well-paid job in Britain. At one time, especially after the war, no doubt there were jobs here for one and all – qualified or not. Today with automation, with guided missiles – which have displaced thousands in the armed forces and in the Royal Air Force particularly – with women competing with men in most jobs it is certainly not easy overnight to find a good job, a job quite congenial to one’s taste and ability.
With the new Industrial Age, Britain is more in need of physicists, chemists, draughtsmen, research workers, metallurgists, technicians, builders, electricians, etc, than of clerks, bookkeepers – however good the diplomas of the latter might be!
You’ll be amazed to learn that in Britain a miner, a bricklayer, a draughtsman, in brief, people engaged in jobs frowned upon at home, earn more there than young doctors who work in London hospitals!
So, if you are interested in electricity, in engineering, in the building trade, in printing, in electronics, in Physics, Chemistry, in research work, Britain is the place for you; but if you are nothing but a “clerk” you’ll find it very hard to get the job you want.
All things being equal, preference will be given to the English candidate rather than to the foreign or colonial competitor, although the latter very often comes along with very impressive diplomas. Incidentally, most English bosses are not very interested in diplomas. They all try, at the very first interview, to size you up, by assessing your I.Q. (Intelligence Quotient), your true self, your personality; and to the British boss, a man with a magnetic personality, with a resonant, charming voice, is worth more than the dull, shy graduate who has no opinion of his own!…
If you are lucky to get a clerk’s job – and there are very few in London for colonial people – then you can be sure that you are in for a very dreary and ill-paid job. Most clerks in London, working from 8 or 9 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. with one hour’s break, do not earn more than £8-10 to £9 and if you subtract the tax, the insurance, you are not left with a lot of money!… Honestly, if you ever think of coming here to seek a job, you should try to learn first electricity, the orthodox way or engineering, or bricklaying. With such jobs in hand, you can be pretty quickly fixed up anywhere in Britain. And your weekly wages will be good.
By way of conclusion
In a large degree, one finds innumerable advantages in a city like London. One can study a host of subjects in evening classes by paying every term a very moderate fee; one daily has the chance to see good films. If you like classical music, well, every week you’ll have at least a very good concert at the Royal Festival Hall or at the Convent Garden Opera. If you are quite keen about learning languages, every evening you can join a linguist class to learn Italian or Spanish.
But London, or Britain at large, can be a very awkward place for visitors, or colonial people who are very temperamental. On the whole, the Anglo-Saxon is very shy, very reserved. His xenophobia is today proverbial. His way of reasoning is essentially insular. According to the French writer, Raymond Las Vergnas, the typical britisher vis-à-vis the foreigner cannot help thinking: “Il est différent, donc il a tort”…
Somehow, London is really unique in the world. Once you get to know the Londoner, the thoroughbred like my friend Peter, you’ll find in him a very reliable and cooperative friend. A friend who will stick to you through thick and thin…
* Published in print edition on 29 December 2020
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