Zadie Smith, the author of the critically acclaimed ‘White Teeth’, would much rather spend an afternoon on Kilburn High Road than anywhere else in London. With so much diversity and the occasional fox on a leash, it’s no wonder she finds so much inspiration from the surrounding sights and sounds – so much so that she has chosen to set her new novel, ‘NW’ there. To help us get more of an insight into for her community, she chatted to some locals out on the street and here’s what they had to say.
Laranda Reveira 37, and Lataysia, 3
What are you in Kilburn for today?
‘I’m just buying little bits and pieces, choosing shoes for my daughter and back to school things for my son. It’s gone a bit downhill round here but I can understand that with the recession. But still, it’s like a graveyard. You can’t actually buy anything. But I still come here out of nostalgia.’
Were your teenage years spent down here?
‘Yeah. I used to see my friends here, we used to just hang out at McDonalds.’
When you walk down the high road do you see people you used to know?
‘No. Everyone’s practically moved out to get better jobs, and housing.’
And what’s your background originally?
‘My mum’s Jamaican, from St Mary’s. My dad’s Bajan. I was born here.’
So were you split during the Olympics?
No! It was Jamaica all the way. It was pretty great.’
Did you back England, too?
‘Obviously, yeah, we’re here now, aren’t we?’
Can we take your photo?
‘Lataysia’s not smiling. That’s her moody face.’
Francesca Gualco, 18
What are you doing here, outside Primark?
‘I’m working here. It’s my summer holidays in Italy, so I decided to come to the UK. I collect money for an international charity. We’re raising money for children with disabilities, people with HIV and victims of sex trafficking.’
Why did you decide to come to England?
‘Because there are more opportunities for people, you know? Right now in Italy the situation is very bad.’
I lived there for two years. Rome. It is beautiful but nobody has a job if they’re under fifty.
Yeah we have a lot of… young people not doing anything.’
Has anything surprised you about London?
‘There are lots of different people and it’s beautiful to see how people from different countries can live with British people and I mean, it’s different because we’re more racist in Italy I think.’
And have the people of Kilburn been generous?
‘People were more generous a week ago, but now there are two charity collectors in the same street and it makes no sense because it’s a competition now. It shouldn’t be like this!’
And what do you do for fun here in London?
‘You know English people, I love them, but you’ve been to Italy so you can understand. Here everything closes at like 3pm and everybody gets drunk very early, so at night there is nothing to do.’
Clare Nelson, 54
Fan of khaki?
‘I just love khaki, yes. Someone asked me today if I had just come back from Afghanistan and where was my gun? I said I’ve left it behind because I don’t want to intimidate anyone.’
Are all your headwraps green?
‘No, no, no. I’ve got multi-colours. But it’s got to be perfectly co-ordinated with the rest of my outfit or I’m not leaving the house.’
What did you do in Kilburn today?
‘I meant to buy something to go to a wedding but I ended up buying food as usual. I hadn’t realized there aren’t many clothes shops left here. At the minute I’m not working as I was looking after my mother full-time until she passed away. Today’s the anniversary. She died four years ago.’
I’m sorry. What were you doing before that?
‘I’ve done loads of jobs. In childcare, worked in offices, helped feed the homeless. I’ve enjoyed it all. Versatility is good. You don’t get bored.’
Are you worried about being out of work?
‘Yes it is worrying. I have five children and six grandchildren.’
Who gives you the most grief?
‘Maybe the grandchildren at the moment. And my sons are having problems trying to get jobs. They are on courses and trying to do things but it’s hard. It’s easier for girls.’
What advice, if any, do you give to your children?
‘I give my kids the advice same my parents gave me: always have manners and respect for older people. If you get a job, whatever it is, do the best that you can.’
Do you have any ambitions for the rest of your life in England?
‘Most probably I want to go back to Jamaica. Although I wasn’t born there, when I’m there it feels like home.’
How old are you?
‘That’s a secret, darling. Go on then, 68.’
Have you always managed Jumanji pet shop?
‘I don’t manage it! I help out. I’ve retired off the fairground. My mum had me in a caravan in Camden but we were always on the move. I’ve never been inside a school.’
When did it close down?
‘It aint. But I’ve come off it because I’ve had three heart attacks. Erecting fairgrounds, travelling with them, put them up, take them down. We’ve done it for a few generations. I like it that you can pick up your house and move.’
Tell me about the history of your body. How long have you been doing these tattoos?
‘My uncle did these when I was young. The first one was these two love hearts. I don’t want any more. I’m fed up with them. If you go to posh restaurants they say to you: ‘Don’t bother coming back.’ I regret them in some ways. They’re things you do when you’re young, aren’t they?’
How many children have you got?
Nine! From different women? Or one long-suffering woman?
‘Three different women.’
Do you think there still might be one great romance in your future?
‘I don’t think so, darling.’
How do fairgrounds compare to Jumanji’s?
‘Fairgrounds are harder work. I like working here. I show the kids how to get used to holding animals. I’ve got lizards, rats and a cockatoo myself.’
How do you feel about Kilburn?
‘I live here. But do you want my honest opinion? It’s a shithole. Find me an English person left on this street!’
I found you, Brian.
‘And too many drugs. Every night there’s a stabbing. I’ve seen too many people been killed on this road here. You can get a smoke, acid, anything you want.’
Do you have a philosophy of life?
‘A what? You can see she went to college can’t you? Always work hard and keep what you earn. I get up every morning at 3.30am and get home at 6pm. That’s my life. I don’t want a break otherwise I’d end up in the pub. Work keeps my mind occupied.’
Are any of your kids involved in the fairground?
‘No, they’ve all settled down and own houses. There’s no money in the fairground game no more.’
Ola Orlikowska, 21
Where are you from? What do you do?
‘I’m from Poland. I’m work as an au pair for a family around here. I live with them and look after a three-year-old girl four days a week. They like me and I feel attached to the girl.’
Is it tough living in someone’s home?
‘It’s difficult at the beginning. You have to behave as if you are part of the family but you are not. If you get used to the language you feel more comfortable. I’m lucky, I have a great family.’
Do you know a lot of Poles in this area?
‘There’s loads of them here. When I go with the baby to the park I hear lots of the Polish language. But I don’t want to hang out with them too much. I’m in England and I need to use English, and as I’m a foreigner I want to fit into society here.’
Do you have a boyfriend?
‘It’s fun being single here. You’ve got more people to choose from. Nothing is an obstacle.’
Mariam Mattar, 18, and Dulcie Huwew, 18
Where are your names from?
Dulcie (left): ‘It’s Libyan. I’m half Libyan and half English.’
Mariam: ‘It’s half Egyptian and half Malaysian.’
Did you co-ordinate this lace thing today?
Dulcie: ‘Not really. We like lace!’
Are you locals? What school do you go to?
Mariam: ‘Yes, we’re from Cricklewood. We’ve just finished at Hampstead.’
I went to Hampstead! Someone told me in 2006 the riot police were called in. What was going on?
Dulcie: ‘It was just a rival school, Whitefields, came down. They’re near Brent Cross. I don’t think we won.’
So what’s the plan for the future?
Dulcie: ‘I’m on a gap year now. I’m volunteering for a few months. I’m going to uni next year.’
Mariam: ‘I’m taking a gap life. Uni’s not on the cards… Because there’s nothing I really want to study and think it’s worth spending the money on.’
When I was at Hampstead I went to uni for free. Do you think if it were free you’d go?
Mariam: ‘Probably, yes.’
How would you describe Hampstead school these days?
Dulcie: ‘Everyone is so different. My group of friends is so mixed. All from everywhere, all different backgrounds and beliefs.’
Mariam: ‘In terms of a community everyone is so friendly. It’s not cliquey.’
Did you have any thoughts about being mixed?
Mariam: ‘I love it. I love being British as well. But I love knowing that my roots are from two different continents.’
Dulcie: ‘No one believes me when I say I’m half Libyan. It’s a surprise – a bit of a party trick – when I say I’m half Arabic.’
Victor Carvilhei, 25, and Alice Carvilhei, 8
Where are you from
Why did you move to Kilburn? Did you come for work?
‘Yes. I don’t know if I will stay or go back. I don’t know what’s going to be tomorrow. I also have a son, he’s three.’
What do you do?
‘I’m a photographer, I do street photography. Some in Kilburn. It’s cool. I like it.’
Alice, what do you think of his tattoos?
Alice: ‘They’re funny. He’s got Alice in Wonderland on his leg.’
Is that where your daughter’s name comes from?
‘I don’t know.’
I love how you have no idea about everything. You’re very Zen.
‘It’s true. I don’t know anything. But I’m happy.’
How is it to have two kids at 25?
‘It’s pretty cool. We can cycle together.’
Where are you off to today?
‘Just to the park, to cycle, to the swimming pool.’
Is he a good dad?
Alice: ‘Yes. He’s super fun.’
Ukay Umoh,30 and David Effiom, 18
Ukay, how long have you been in London?
‘About a month. We shop. And… chill.’
How do you make your money to do all this shopping?
‘We make money back home. We’re in the marining.’
Do you live in Kilburn? Is it home now or are you going back to Nigeria?
‘We live just down the road but we will go back home to Nigeria.’
How do you feel about Kilburn?
‘It’s alright. It’s great.’
What’s great about it? What are the girls like?
‘They’re not so friendly… and I don’t want to date Nigerian girls. But the English girls they’re not friendly.’
The English girls are not friendly? Have you tried Jamaican girls? We’re quite friendly.
‘They’re too fast. I like it slow… I’m not a rough guy.’
Are you both princes, like every Nigerian in London?
‘Yeah I’m a prince.’
Of course. What kind of prince are you?
‘What kind of prince do you have?’
Anisa Galeb, 20, and Tia Roble 19
Are you locals?
Anisa (left): ‘We just came down from Leicester. We’re not from Kilburn, her sister lives here. We’re Dutch.’
Where are your parents from?
Tia: ‘Somalia. We were born in Holland and came to Leicester about 12 years ago’
Which do you prefer?
Tia: ‘Well, I grew up here, because I started at primary school here, so I prefer here because now I know English. I sound foreign in Holland.’
Anisa: ‘Britain’s different. I used to live in the countryside, loads of farms and quiet. It’s like Loughborough, it’s small.’
Have you ever been back to Somalia?
Anisa: ‘Yeah, I went there for the first time two years ago in 2010.’
What did you make of it?
Anisa: ‘I loved it; it’s really nice and really big. I wouldn’t live there; I’d go there for holidays. Maybe when I’m older I’d live there, it’s more peaceful. We’ve got workers there: one who cooks and one who cleans.’
Staff. Big advantage. So, what are your plans for the future?
Tia: ‘I really want to be an air-hostess.’
Anisa: ‘I study social work at Liverpool University.’
What’s it like to be Somali in the UK?
Tia: ‘My friendship group here is a variety of people, not all Somalians, I hang around with Moroccans, people like from loads of different ethnic groups, a mixture, really.’
Right, can we get a picture of you girls?
Anisa: ‘Don’t photograph us! We look awful!’
Tia: ‘We look so bad!’
You can re-do your make up in the window of Argos.
Anisa: ‘Hmm….alright then.’
Read more from Zadie in this week’s Time Out Magazine, out tomorrow.