All the remembrances of Mandela have revived forgotten memories. I used to spend a lot of time in London. Mandela was still imprisoned at the time, which prompted a lot of protests. One late night I had been on a pub crawl with a Spanish photographer, an Ozzie engineer and an ex-solider from South Africa. We met at the King’s Arms pub in Earl’s Court. One of my friends worked there.
India was always considered the Jewel in the Crown, but I thought it was significant that Canada and South Africa had pride of place by having Canada House and South Africa House lining Trafalgar Square. India House was set back from the Square.
The discussion that night was how India may have provided faster, shinier jewels/wealth for the Empire, but it was the natural resources, entrepreneurship and people power of Canada and South Africa which provided the real wealth of the Empire via our political and economic stability. Hey, I like to think there’s a certain depth to my drunken discussions.
About 3 am the loftiness of our discussion dissolved. We decided to see whose house was bigger: Canada or South Africa. So, we attempted to measure the size of the buildings by walking heel-to-toe, toe-to-heel the length and width of the buildings.
Because it was such a political time, South Africa House was under constant security watch. We looked like a failed group of Greek dancers with our arms linked over each other’s shoulders, trying not to stagger into the gutter. Halfway down the length of SA House, several men jumped out of a van to see what we were up to. The Ozzie tripped and fell into the arms of one of these men. When they realized we were basically just a group of drunk colonials – our Spaniard aside – they loosened up. The Ozzie, seeing a flask in the van asked for tea. So we all ended up sitting on the cement wall around the Square having tea with our new friends…
Funny how I remember that. I’m less certain about how and where the evening ended. I know it wasn’t a jail cell.