One snowy Saturday we trundled along in a train stressing and straining under the weight of suprising snows, which engulfed and caked and delighted us all the way to our stop-starting voyage to another world called Southall.
Little India one might say - the whole world Asian - crunching through the snow - outside the station willing young men, shovelled and pushed, and huffed and puffed helping families and saloons and vans slither there way up slopes that did their best to inhibit their ascent.
Pieces of carpet were laid on o the street for grip, wheelspins, exhaust, slush and snow.
We ventured on to a shop selling bites, teas and tobacco leaves. Curiosity called for a Masala Chai - very Christmassy with its cinnamon aroma. We procured a tobacco leave. The assistant sprinkled several different sauces and flavours on to the leaf, as if he were guilding a Big Mac, over zealous with the condiments - we wondered when it might stop - we chuckled - the magnitude of our chuckling growing exponentially with each extra squirt of new flavour.
Later we enter a Gurdwara - shoes off - socks off - I ask a Sikh to help me put on this orange kaftan - he applies it willingly and carefully to my head - he smiles broadly when he sees my appreciation - I pat him on the back. An old man with a fine mousetache talks in broken English about how Kabul is not doing well - mujahadeen - he says.
We walk across the cold floors, peer into the dining hall, where men sit cross legged on long carpet and eat - and then work our way up to the prayer hall. A beautiful, huge room, with a sea of white carpet, and men, and women, sitting in small groups or on their own, backs to the wall and columns, contemplating the melodic litargy of the wisened and beard distinguished scholar teacher - who sits in a box lit up by the orange and yellow hues given life by the light filtered by the beatufil stain glass window which sits imperiously behind. The man waves a white feathered stick across something that takes the shape of a very small coffin - all covered in white.
Either side scholars take their position in booths, which light up when they are present, we see learning and wisdom accreted - pages of large books turned and inspected. Learning al publico.
I close my eyes and let the melodies of this old scholar's song fill my mind - my brain trying to make sense of the grammar of this strange language - I feel welcomed and yet unwelcomed. Toleration and anxiety. Both within and beyond.
We leave, and venture onwards and around. The tabocca leaf is chewed, the effect powerful.
We find ourselves drawn to the football results flashing out at us from what looks like a Somali shop specialising in fruit juices. The colourful garlands, borrowed it seems from their Sikh brothers, and the array of fruit in the glass desk at the back of the shop speaks of beautiful thirst quenching juices - full of the bounty of mother nature. And yet our arrival, in what is quite clearly a Somali establishment, causes some degree of consternation, masked by a polite welcome. We ask for a fruit juice, which causes three or four Somali men to go into conference.
'Juice?' asks one of them to us. After some discussion the group finally concludes the object of our desire. It takes ten minutes for the first juice to arrive. First an impromptu lesson in smoothie making is imparted, in Somali it seems, from one guy to another - and then a futher six minutes for their blender to do the job of cutting up pineapple and melon.
The drink was, frankly, disgusting. But by that time, whilst Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas had digested every last movement in the footbally contours of the Championship, the eight corners of our eyes had comprehended the volume of Somali men who had rolled into the shop. Each man who entered ignored the opportunities to procure a fruit smoothie and contemplate the announcements of Thompson and Nicholas. Instead they piled, without request or permission, past the counter, down some stairs, and into the nether regions of this establishment.
In the time between our entering the shop and my first horrid taste of that drink, we laughed at how our request for a smoothie had caused such confusion. We chuckled at how the blender, in taking several minutes to cut through a pineapple was perhaps the most pathetic of its kind in London. But the most mirth was had at our own naivety - that a group of Somali men might think to open up a juice bar. The last laugh was aimed at an onion, buried amongst all the fruit. What kind of smoothie would have an onion in it?
We had such fun in that shop, and I believe the Somali men who worked there, if a little anxious, were similarly humoured by the situation. Perhaps we were their first ever 'customers'. We left with a foul taste in our mouth, and with Norwich drawing 1 all at Coventry.
Still we wandered through the sleet and snow, and came across the mother of all Indian supermarkets; the Himalaya Palace, and a succession of gold and Indian music shops. We saw a shop advertising the fact that it sells 'western food'.
The night ended with a curry at The Brilliant.
But the sweetest taste was the friendliness and openness with which the inhabitants of this place greeted us.
Ladies and gentlemen forget Narnia.
The magic is all in Southall.
No longer pisst - a pub with an Indian twist
What language is this?