Indian Roots (part 5): ALL CLUES POINT TO NORTHERN KERALA

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I knew that my great grandfather had come from the coast of Kerala, but Kerala is a long state with almost 600km of shoreline, that’s like the distance from England’s south coast to the Scottish border, so I needed to narrow down the possibilities a bit.

I turned to Google.

I tapped in the words Rayiru Kerala.

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To follow this story from the beginning, click here to start at part 1. The parts are short so it will take you no time at all to catch up.

The Google search four years ago only brought up a couple of pages.

The first hit detailed an inner-family land dispute that existed over many decades and involved rent on a property being paid in 50 coconut leaves to a Rayiru Kurup (remember that Kurup was the occupational title of my great grandfather). The text was full of legal jargon specific to India and also the era in which the dispute began, so I was unable to clearly understand the ins and outs. Also, it failed to mention a specific location in Kerala. I moved on.

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Indian Roots (part 4): RAMA RAYIRU, INDIAN IMMIGRANT

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My great grandad, who I will now refer to as Rama, was born in India in 1893. I never knew him, nor did I ever show any real interest in knowing about him as I was growing up. He was just a man in a black and white photo on our living-room wall.

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The picture on our living-room wall when I was growing up. I have since learnt that this photo was probably taken on his wedding day, as Hindus only wear turbans on very rare occasions (such as when getting married)

But all that changed one night four years ago when I had an unusual and vivid dream. If you’re not already familiar with the dream I’m talking about, may I suggest you go back to part 1 of this story (the parts are short, I promise) in which I explain.

Rama was one of those old-school immigrants who moved to a country, adapted and integrated, started a family, never spoke a word about his past life, brought his kids up in the culture of the land of their birth and then returned to his homeland at the end of it all to see out his final years. Because of this, no one seems to know much about him.

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Indian Roots (part 3): K IS FOR KRISHNA

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After the dreams (start at part 1 of the story if you don’t know what dreams I’m on about), I joined a group on Facebook that I knew existed but wasn’t a part of. It had been set up by a distant relative of mine, the wife of the son of one of my grandad’s brothers. Her aim was to bring together as many Rayirus as she could, as she was trying to put together a family tree. In the group she shared what she had learnt about my great grandfather, and also all the other family members could post what pictures they had, and contribute what little bits of information they knew. This group worked simply because the name Rayiru isn’t a common one, even in India, and all Rayirus in the UK descended from the same man: my great grandfather.

The first thing I learnt was my great grandfather’s name: Rama Eachorath Rayiru.

I was told, though, that he never used the Eachorath, so was just known as Rama, a Hindu name.

I then found out that his son – my grandad – after whom I am named, anglicised his name to Kris (or Krissy to his friends and family) from his birth name of Ram Krishna. My name comes from Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu in Hinduism. I think that’s pretty cool.

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The guy who I was named after was named after this guy

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Indian Roots (part 2): NICKNAMES

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Since childhood my close group of mates have had an abundance of nicknames for me, each one relating to the way I look. Here is a list of the ones that I can think of off the top of my head:

*Stavros
*Kris Theodopolopodus (The Greek character in 90s sitcom Birds of a Feather)
*Muhammed
*The Afghan
*Bubble (as in Bubble and Squeak, or Greek)
*The Refugee
*Kebab Boy
*Mustafa
*Medallion Man
*The Turk
*Sanchez Moleman
*Chilli Sos (Chilli Sauce but in a Turkish accent….)

These names have always been used with affection. If I’m honest, I can see where my mates are coming from. I mean, just have a look at me. I look about as stereotypically English as an embroidered prayer mat.

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The hat’s not part of my everyday attire. Although it’s a massive help when hitchhiking in Turkey

 

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Indian Roots (part 1): THE DREAM

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When you are a little kid, viewing the world through inexperienced eyes, there are certain things that don’t register; differences that go unnoticed. When you are running around with your friends in the playground at infant school, you don’t see white and black, rich and poor, northern and southern, native and foreign. You just see people like you.

It can’t be any different anywhere else, surely.

I will give you a couple of quick examples of what I mean. Growing up I had a friend called Pavlos Samithrakis. We first became mates in reception class, at the age of five. I used to go round his house all the time for dinner and to play, and I knew his two little brothers who were called Yannis and Markos, both of whom had the same olive skin and dark features as their brother. Pavlos’ dad was a tall, dark man with a thick moustache, who spoke with a strong accent. He worked on the ships. His name was Angelo. I imagine you have a hastily built up picture of this family in your mind. They are obviously Greeks. There were enough clues there. The names, the accent, the physical appearance. And yet it wasn’t until I was about ten or eleven that I knew Pavlos’ family to be any different to any other in the neighbourhood. Even the name Pavlos Samithrakis never seemed foreign to me. He was just my mate Pavlos.

Through the same years of my life I had another good friend called Tunde. He lived just around the corner from me, and most days our families would walk to school together; Tunde and I running ahead passing a football between ourselves, while our mums walked behind with our younger siblings. Tunde was black. Both of his parents were white. I never noticed this; or if I did, I never questioned it. Never asked my mum, ‘How did two white people have a black baby?’ It wasn’t that I felt it rude to ask, it was simply that it never seemed out of the ordinary to me. He called his parents mum and dad, and so as far as I was concerned they were his mum and dad. When we were around 12 Tunde went away. One day he was here, the next gone. But his mum and dad still lived round the corner. And on top of that, they had a couple of new sons, also black. The only thing that seemed odd was that these new sons were of school age. I had never seen them as babies or toddlers.

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GLASSED A NAZI IN THE FACE

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21st of April 2003

Yesterday was my first night off since I started working here. It was also Adolf Hitler’s birthday. Usually that’s not a detail that I would make a point of mentioning. Under normal circumstances I would remain unaware of the fact, myself. But the reason for its relevance will soon become clear. During the afternoon Matt and I took the metro down to the Vatican to buy some bottles of Red Square from the international delicatessen. Quite a few bottles. I also picked up some Marmite. And some butterscotch Angel Delight.

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By the time the sun starts its descent, Lee, Matt and I are already half cut in the hostel’s kitchen, having drunk all the bottles, so we head up the road to Julius Caesar to take advantage of our free allotment in there, and then when the barman refuses us any more we pinch a bottle each out of the fridge when his back’s turned and take them for the walk down to Finnegan’s, where we stay until closing time. When we leave, I’m up three pairs of socks, which I’ve bought off an African in the pub. I don’t need new socks.

There’s this club we know that we plan on finishing the night in. Lee and I discovered it during our Roman holiday last year, and the three of us also went there once while we were living in Ponte Galeria. It’s a bit of a poncey place, the crowd and the décor, but the music’s good and the girls are beautiful, and you know you’re not going to get any trouble.

We enter and find a different atmosphere than on our previous visits. A menacing group of visitors have picked the location for their get-together. A gang of about 20 shaven-headed Neo-Nazi thugs, all dressed in black and covered in swastika badges and the like, celebrating the birthdate of their Führer. They’ve even got a picture of the man with the ridiculous moustache on display in the middle of the table they’ve commandeered. Most of them are Italian, but there are some international guests among them, too. They’ve brought with them a dark cloud of negative energy, as everybody else in the place is on edge. The Nazis are just strutting around, snarling at men and trying to impose themselves on the women. People are afraid. I hate Nazis at the best of times, but tonight the feeling of loathing is all the stronger because this is my one night off and I was hoping to be able to enjoy it in a relaxed manner. Fucking wankers.

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We’ve been in the place about 25 minutes and no one’s having a good time. Matt and I are standing at the packed bar, trying to get served, when Lee approaches, cupping his nose in his hands.

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SIGNED COPIES FOR CHILDREN WITH CANCER

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I’m selling signed and personalised copies of Gatecrashing Europe to raise money for the charity Children With Cancer. Each copy will cost you just a tenner, that’s even cheaper than if you buy it in the shop or on Amazon, and a fiver of your money will go directly to the charity. Not to mention the 10% that already goes to Cancer Research UK.

So you’ll be helping two charities with one purchase, plus getting a book at a discount on its RRP.

I’m not making any money out of this, so don’t think it’s for my benefit. And to give you confidence that the money’s definitely going directly to the charity, I’m selling it through Ebay, who take care of all of that.

If you’re interested in a copy, CLICK HERE TO CHECK IT OUT. 
And here’s a copy of the link, if you could be so kind as to share it around: http://r.ebay.com/lKvvZS

Thank you. Love you all.

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Unfair Punishment

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So this is pretty wrong, but it happened. I had to kick two Americans out of the hostel earlier tonight. They’d only checked in a couple of hours earlier and had paid up for the next five nights, but now they’re wandering the streets of Rome looking for another place to stay. On top of that, Mario refused to give them their money back, so they lost around 90 Euros each.

I had just started the night shift and although technically the smoking terrace was shut for the night, I told these two lads that they could stay out there a bit longer so long as they were quiet. It was fine because Mario was gone for the night, so no one was going to bother them. They only wanted somewhere safe to be able chill out and smoke the nice lump of hash they’d just bought. I was going to go out there and join them once everything was under control at reception, leaving Amin to man the desk alone for a bit while I got stoned, to be able to float nicely through the rest of the night shift. I turned off all the lights in the communal area and closed it off to guests and waited for the last remaining stragglers to piss off out for the night. The unmistakable fragrant aroma of marijuana filled the air. It smelt delicious.

Amin was balancing the books for the day and Matt and I were just stood chatting about nothing in particular when fucking Mario walked in the door. He didn’t need any time to smell what we could all smell. ‘What the fuck is that? Drugs in my hostel!’ Mario’s policy is zero tolerance. I’d been unaware until that moment of how seriously he enforced it, but now I found out. He flew out onto the terrace; they never had a chance. He grabbed one of them by the collar. I’ve never seen him that angry before. ‘Pack your bags! Get the fuck out of my hostel!’ They tried to reason with him but he was having none of it. He came back to reception and told me that I was to make sure they were gone in 10 minutes. Then he gave Matt and me a bollocking for not smelling it sooner. Continue reading

The Italian Job 2003

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And then he had the cheek to put his hand out to shake mine. I stared him in the eye and laughed in his face as I shook my head. He didn’t like it, and told me that if that’s how I was going to be then he wanted me out of the hostel by tomorrow evening. And that was the moment when I knew I was going to rob him. My options were pretty limited. I said ‘Yea, whatever, prick,’ and walked out of his office. I felt stunned. As I reached the top of the stairs it hadn’t really sunk in yet what had just happened. Fifteen minutes ago I’d been sleeping peacefully, nothing out of the ordinary going on in my world. And now I found myself without a job, without a place to stay, without a ticket home and without cash. In the staff bedroom Matt was still asleep. He woke as I walked in and turned his head to the door to ask what they’d wanted with me. ‘He just sacked me. Mario got Julian to fucking sack me.’ Matt’s reaction was laughter, accompanied by ‘What you gonna do?’
‘Rob him. You in?’

Matt had no interest in robbing Mario and fleeing the country. ‘I’m comfortable enough here, thanks. I like this job; I like living in Rome. I’m not ready to leave. You can do what you want, though. You’ve just been sacked!’

I said ‘Fair enough,’ and started packing my bags, while Matt went downstairs for breakfast. He returned to the dorm ten minutes later. ‘Julian just sacked me. Mario got him to do it.’ Too fucking funny. ‘You don’t wanna rob him, though.’ ‘Well actually, I do now.’ ‘OK then.’

The brief meeting between Julian, Mario and Matt had been as amicable as mine just a little while earlier, meaning that Mario would be in vigilant mode, aware of the risks posed by two disgruntled and hostile ex-employees wandering around the premises. So before doing anything else, we had to trick him. Together, we walked downstairs and knocked on his office door. He was alone inside; Julian gone. I apologised for refusing to shake his hand earlier, and told him I had just been shocked in the moment, but deep down I knew he was a good man and I was grateful to him for even allowing me to stay until tomorrow. Matt said some words of similar description. Mario bought it. We all smiled like old friends and shook hands and patted backs. Then we asked if actually we could stay until Tuesday morning, in two days’ time, as there was a cheap flight back to London that we would grab. He agreed. Thank you, you’re a legend. More back patting and we left the office. Too easy.

We went back up to the fourth floor and finished packing our shit. Somehow we had to get everything out of the hostel without anyone clocking us. We couldn’t just walk past reception with our gear, not when we’d told Mario we were staying until Tuesday. In the dorm next to ours a group of cheerleader type American girls were chatting loudly. We tapped their door. ‘Ladies, you couldn’t do us a favour, could you?’

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Gatecrashing Europe

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Here’s a video of an interview I did with Brighton’s Juice 107 about my book Gatecrashing Europe.

If you want a copy of Gatecrashing Europe, go to either the publisher Valley Press, or Amazon, or if you’re old school you can go into your local bookshop on the high street, for example Waterstones.

And don’t forget, 10 per cent of all royalties go to Cancer Research UK.