KHAWAGA'S TALE: Bye-Bye London

Peter A. Carrigan
6 Min Read

I returned home to Cairo yesterday. Though I am writing this in London on Friday, having almost failed the only assignment my editor gave me over the summer. “Visit Edgware Road, she said. “Find out how the smoking ban has affected the shisha cafes.

My editor forgot to tell me to take a raincoat to London’s Arabic speaking district, where you can find Lebanese restaurants and Middle Eastern newspapers. Shisha pipes, which once lined Edgware Road, are a dying habit.

There was hardly a hookah to be found. Between the appalling “summer weather and the new law in the United Kingdom banning smoking inside cafes, restaurants and pubs, the sweet smelling apple flavoured tobacco is no more. I believe they are being replaced by internet cafes and shops selling mobile phones and electronics.

Of course, there are a number of outside tables, but as already mentioned, the weather has not been conducive to pulling on the water pipe. With the nights drawing in, the long winter presents a huge challenge to the smoking culture along Edgware Road.

It is not all doom and gloom around Marble Arch though. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has moved into the neighborhood. He and the family have set up house in a mews just off Conaught Street. Easy to spot, opposite the Griffin Hotel, where an armed policemen keeps watch 24/7.

Smoking, in all its forms, is on the way out and I believe France is next. But babies are back in vogue. There is a baby boom in the UK and the majority of them seem to be boys. Everywhere pregnant women waddle around the big shops and department stores in London’s West End, which have all introduced new fashion-friendly lines of maternity wear, a change from the big shirt or smock of a few years ago.

There are celebrity babies: Princess Tiiami Jordan, Apple and Moses Paltrow, Bluebell Halliwell and a brood of adoptions. Brad and Angelina’s adopted children are Maddox, Pax and Zahara. Not to be out done by Tom Cruise who has Suri Cruise, the ultimate conspiracy child

Thankfully, my good friends Steve and Sinead, who have never been fashion slaves, have named their new boy Joseph. Baby Joseph is gorgeous and he is already turning heads. It takes twice as long to get down the shops for milk and bread because everyone has to stop and say, “Goo goo.

You perch Joseph on a seat at a restaurant and instantly the waiters descend to get his order. The publican and his wife coo over the lad at the corner pub and old women push gold coins into his tiny hands.

Babies don’t seem to slow anyone down and life for my friends, who have mostly turned 40, continues to follow the mantra set down in their twenties: work hard, play hard. It is the ’80s generation who have created this baby boom and the children are to grow up with parents who don’t really want to grow up themselves.

One interesting experience that came my way in the rain during the week was in a black cab. On the back window was a newspaper clipping of the cabbie dressed in a tuxedo from Egypt’s Al Ahram newspaper. Before we knew it, Aidan Kent, Frank Sinatra impersonator had burst into a rendition of, “Black Magic.

As amazing as it was to have a London cab driver singing Frank, it was more amazing that this guy is moving to Dubai to make his fortune.

This I said, “was a fantastic idea with loads of potential. We discussed all the possible venues he might get a gig and he could change the lyrics of New York New York to: “In old Dubai, the city that never sleeps, I am king of the hill, A number one, if you make it there, you can make it anywhere, in old Dubai, Dubai – da da da da da – its up to you, Dubai Dubaiiii – da da da da da.

As you can see, it really is time for me to get home. And as I sit and finish my column before I fly out of Heathrow, the English summer has arrived. But I am glad to be going home. I would have woken up in my own bed this morning, a change from sofa beds, hotel beds and pull-out beds.

Holidays are great, but the catching up with family and friends, living out of a suitcase and the strange mattresses are just murder on the back. I really do need a holiday now!

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