Flash Back – Oi Am Oirish (I am Irish)!

While doing my articleship with the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works in Waterloo, London, two particular incidents provided comic relief to my existence though the second incident was more of a disaster than comedy both to myself and a close friend, Tony, who was on the receiving end.

As I had explained in an earlier post I lived nearer Streatham Hill than Balham to which Emmanuel Road belonged. And my table tennis club, the Estreham Table Tennis Club, was a short distance down from the Streatham Hill London Transport Bus Station in the direction of Streatham itself. On this particular day I had returned from Waterloo, my work place, had a quick meal and picked up my tennis bag and was walking in a good mood down the High Street towards my tennis club. It was summer and at that time about seven o’clock in the evening there was still good daylight. Suddenly a man stopped in front of me forcing me to also stop and take a good look at him. It was clear he was a vagrant, a hobo. In Nigeria we would call him a beggar, a layabout. He had the usual dirty dark overcoat and a not too clean vest under. He had a few days old stubble of beard on his face which it was obvious he had not washed in days. He tried to look earnest as he said, ‘Oi, my friend! Oi am Irish. You know the English don’t like us. I mean they don’t like you black people and us Oirish. Mate, I haven’t eaten for two days. Can you spare something for a cup of tea?’ I was not shocked for in my stay in London I had come across a few of them. Well, I had a little change in my pocket and I gave him something for a cup of tea and went on my way.

Till today when I remember the other incident I feel sad. My landlord and landlady, John and Olive Piper, were very nice to me ever since I moved into the room upstairs in their house. Sometimes when the weather was particularly cold Mrs Piper would bring me a cup of tea. Well, as a student I developed an interest in photography and bought myself a Russian Kiev camera and took it to events including weddings. My friends were impressed with my photographic prowess. And this prompted Tony, a fellow student from the same local government area in Nigeria, not to get a proper photographer to record his wedding. I was please when he asked me to be the photographer at his wedding, I dutifully obliged. Coincidentally, that very night Mr and Mrs Piper had a party for their thirteen year old daughter, Carol, and their ground floor apartment was filled with youth of ages up to twenty. Earlier Mrs Piper had taken my permission for some of the party attendees to leave their overcoats in my room. I obliged, left my room door open and went out. By the time I came back the overcoats had been removed and the party was over. And to my chagrin I realised that my Kiev camera which I was very proud of and which still carried the roll of film containing Tony’s wedding pictures had been stolen. That is why Tony and his wife have no wedding photographs and why I remain embarrassed till today!

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