Arriving in one of Britain’s pleasanter provincial cities recently, I took a taxi from the station. The driver, I soon discovered, was Somali. He was delighted that I had been to Somalia – only the second such passenger he had ever had, he said.
We talked of the good old days of the dictator, Siad Barre. He was too young to remember them, but he had heard tell of that prelapsarian time in his home country. I did not like to disillusion him by recounting that when I was in Somalia there was famine and cholera, to say nothing of political oppression and grotesque corruption. By comparison with what came later, of course, this was nothing.
When he sent money home, he said, eighty per cent of it never reached its addressee. He extolled the honesty of Britain, and my heart swelled with patriotic pride. We are, even after years of Blair, Brown and Cameron, still better than Somalia: so here is a deal of ruin in a nation after all.
I asked the taxi driver whether he liked living in the city. He said that he did: he preferred it to London because life was much easier there and there were fewer distractions, yet it as big enough for there to be everything there that you could want. He was not a potential patron, I should imagine, of our great national cultural institutions.
But then he said something that I had not entirely expected. He said he liked the city because you could always find work there. True, it was a city with one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the country, but I thought it was an interesting criterion that he had selected for liking a place. And then he said that he wanted to study to better himself, and felt that the city offered him the opportunity to do so.
This man was representative only of himself, of course, but his case was nonetheless instructive. He had been in the country eight or nine years and his English was not perfect, but he had nevertheless managed to obtain an official taxi licence. Irrespective of the assistance he received from others, his trajectory in life could not have been easy. He was worthy of admiration, and put many a complaining native to shame. Not for him the siren song of social injustice, and the long wait for it to be righted before he did anything for himself!