The guest-essay below was written by Peter, a long-time reader and commenter who is now an English expatriate in Thailand.
Why I Left England’s Mean and Unpleasant Land
I left England with my wife, Kanya, in February 2013 and bought a house in Northern Thailand. We had been married for just under eight years and I first brought her from her native Thailand to my home in West London in 2005, where she settled in well and quickly found work with the help of the local Thai community. Unlike most of our friends, we were debt-free and comfortably off. We had spent a great deal of money on renovating our flat, extending the lease and landscaping the garden, which we enhanced with two magnolia saplings. We were hoping to see them grow, but it wasn’t to be. However reluctantly, we felt we had to leave.
I had lived in Hayes, Middlesex since January 1988. At the time I moved there, Hayes had been a white working class area but by the time we left, it was neither. At any time and on any day of the week, Hayes town centre was crowded but the few white people to be seen were elderly and retired. While the absence of younger white people could have been attributed to the fact that they were working, the incidence of “white flight” from this part of London had become an accepted fact of life and those who could move had done so, and had done so in great numbers. On the other hand, the remaining black, Indian, Pakistani and Somali contingents, although able-bodied, did not appear to have jobs nor any intention of finding one.
Hayes is an area which runs westwards from the grubby Asian ghetto of Southall to the middle class suburb of Hillingdon. Southall had been settled by immigrants since the 1950s mainly by Sikhs and other Indians who had come to the UK to escape the rather dubious benefits of Indian independence and been drawn by the factory work in the area and, of course, by the jobs to be had in an expanding Heathrow Airport. Then came the Pakistanis and Bengalis who opened restaurants and other businesses while others involved themselves in the local textile industry that was still thriving at the time. Later, much later, came the Somalis and other Africans who made up the multicultural mix lauded by the liberals, who, of course, did not live anywhere near there.
By 1994 the population of Southall had started to spread the mile or two westwards to Hayes just when I decided to give up full time work, rent my flat and go travelling. When I came back at the end of 1999, Hayes was showing the effects of having been utilised intensively as a social dumping ground for a burgeoning unskilled immigrant population by the London Boroughs of Ealing, Hillingdon and Hounslow, leaving Hayes Town centre bearing a marked resemblance to the North West Frontier Province with most of the shops having been taken over by Asians and displaying signs in Hindi, Urdu and Arabic. There were Halal butchers, Indian mini marts as well as several Muslim shops selling Korans and other essential items that every good Muslim should not be without. On the street there were women in saris, headscarves, niqabs and full burkhas walking the customary four paces behind heavily bearded men in shalwar khamiz or ankle-length robes. Some but by no means all of the younger Indians, Pakistanis and other Asians wore Western clothes.
At this stage I must stress that Hayes had never been an ideal place to live even before the onset of creeping Islamisation. It was a down-at-heel district with more than its fair share of shaven-headed football hooligans and tattooed f-wits as well as a number of pubs that sensible people would take great care to avoid. It was considered to be a rough area with many beggars in the street, and where fights broke out regularly, especially when the pubs were closing. However, by the time I returned from my travels, the tattooed skinheads had moved out and the pubs they frequented, in addition to a good many others, had closed down. Some had become Asian restaurants while others had been pulled down to make room for “affordable housing” — that is, subsidized apartments for the terminally dependent. To offset what many people might see as an improvement, the incidence of low level street crime and burglary had increased to the extent that the police no longer investigated such things, but nobody wanted to talk about that or the dark-skinned drug dealers and their customers who had replaced most of the street drinkers and beggars.
The standard of driving had also deteriorated in this part of West London, because many of the newcomers had either not passed a driving test or had engaged a lookalike to take the test for them. At the time, I used to drive a four-year-old BMW until it was written off in a collision with a car driven by a homicidal Sri Lankan. Afterwards I decided to drive old wrecks to save myself further heartache, but that didn’t work either. My Rover was broken into so many times that my insurers felt compelled to decline further cover, while the Ford with which I replaced it had a door wrenched off by another thief in the process of stealing four Leonard Cohen cassettes. In the end, I purchased a 25-year-old Volvo 760 GLE, an indestructible tank of a vehicle and defied anyone to break into it or damage it in any way.
It was stolen.
In the mid 2000s or thereabouts, the Hayes and Harlington Community Centre in the middle of Hayes town became an Islamic centre, which proved to be an attraction for many second-generation Pakistani and Bangladeshi youths who saw it as a better proposition than the Job Centre or the internet shop. This coincided with an influx of young Somali men who were particularly aggressive and were wont to work their aggression out on anyone who could not retaliate. As a result people tended to avoid Hayes town, especially after dark.
Kanya arrived at Heathrow in May 2005 and coolly surveyed her surroundings. She was unimpressed and deeply critical of the British Government at the time for allowing a situation to develop where economically inactive and potentially violent immigrants were treated better than their hard-working, taxpaying hosts. She was no wide-eyed tourist, either. She was in her early 40s and originally came from a poor farming community in Southern Thailand that had also experienced creeping Islamisation. She went to Bangkok in her late teens and worked in the computer industry, firstly for Honeywell on the assembly line and then for Alpha Tech as an administrator. While she worked, she regularly sent money home and later put herself through university gaining a Bachelors Degree in English and Business Administration. Armed with her degree, she left the computer industry and opened her own restaurant in an area of Bangkok which had become increasingly culturally enriched over the years. Unfortunately, the growing number of newcomers preferred kebabs to Padthai, which gradually had an impact on her takings. However, her experience in Bangkok made it easy for her to get catering work, first of all as a temporary chef at the Heathrow Marriott and subsequently running a coffee shop in a staff restaurant on the nearby Stockley Park industrial estate. In the meantime, I had returned to work as a contractor, accepting engagements from Local Authorities in Central London by way of an agency run by a close friend.
For a time, things were going well. Then they started to slide slowly downhill, incrementally, so we didn’t notice at once what was happening. When I first moved to Hayes, the area between the back gardens of our little cul-de-sac and the main road could best be described as industrial, the major portion consisting of a builders’ merchants with a two storey office block, a large workshop area and a spacious lorry park. Immediately next door was a car-breaker’s and all-purpose scrap yard, with piles of rusting car carcasses piled so high they looked as though they would topple over. This area might have looked ugly but at least it did not threaten the residents, which was a pity, because the London Borough of Hillingdon had plans for it.
First of all, the car breaker’s yard was closed and cleared out, which did not give cause for concern as it was a bit of an eyesore and we were better off without it — or so we thought. The land was purchased by a developer who promptly constructed a small housing estate consisting of approximately twenty five-bedroomed town houses. The “for sale” signs had not been up for long before the developer realized he might be in some difficulty. The houses were being offered for sale at prices up to half a million pounds each and nobody in Hayes had that kind of money. In spite of the hitches the majority of these houses were eventually sold, but not necessarily for owner occupation. In the meantime, the builders’ merchants had been purchased by a Housing Association for the erection of a larger estate consisting of affordable flats and houses with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms to accommodate large families. I’d heard of estates like this being built in Tower Hamlets during the 1980s, and I knew what was coming.
When the planning application was advertised, a fair number of owner-occupiers in neighbouring streets put their flats up for sale, most of which were acquired by Asian slum landlords and let to Asian slum dwellers who were clearly unused to Western levels of hygiene. As a result, the pavements were littered with all sorts of unpleasant material, from soiled babies’ napkins to drug paraphernalia, while angry Pakistani and Afro-Caribbean youths loitered in the streets looking for a way to work out their anger. Other “vulnerable” groups had also moved into the area, such as psychiatric patients, prisoners released on licence, drug offenders in the course of rehabilitation and terror suspects under Control Orders.
In Hayes Town, our local bank was two buildings away from the “Islamic centre” which meant we often had to pass groups of leering, hairy-faced louts to get to the front door. This caused Kanya considerable unease, and in the end, we decided to use the branch in Uxbridge, although it was much further away.
In order to get to and from work Kanya needed to travel by bus. These journeys became increasingly stressful as, like any number of women, she was being pestered and propositioned by Indian or Pakistani men, even by the bus drivers themselves. One morning she called me from the bus stop where a man was exposing himself. As is common in such circumstances, the police didn’t arrive until after the man had left, although several women managed to get a photograph of him on their mobiles. He was caught later that day at another bus stop by an irate husband.
The affordable housing estate behind us was eventually let to immigrant families from a multitude of ethnic origins. There were Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Nigerians and Afro-Caribbeans amongst many others, none of whom was at all well-disposed toward his or her neighbours, generating a veritable witches brew of social unrest. Their teenage offspring regarded the existing residents as a repository for things they did not have so that they would climb over our garden fences while we were at work and take whatever they could carry. My neighbour in the flat downstairs, a devout Sikh, was burgled and a number of religious statues were stolen from her prayer room, while my next door neighbor had his satellite dish stolen twice. To make things worse, the developer of the luxury town houses leased some of the remaining properties to another housing association which promptly let them to a colony of Somalis. Mercifully, there was no discernible rise in the level of violent and anti-social behaviour being experienced by local residents, but it did cause much discontent in the immediate vicinity not only amongst the resident population but amongst the immigrants as well. The town houses were luxury homes: the sort of property that was well beyond the reach of hard-working, taxpaying British people, especially those in Hayes. Who gave these Somalis and their extended broods the right to walk straight off the plane at Heathrow and take immediate possession of a luxury furnished house, solely on the basis of their rate of procreation and without having contributed a penny in taxation?
Oh the joys of Multiculturalism!
Gradually we were changing our behavior. Public transport was no longer considered safe in the evenings so we took more taxis, although, because most taxi drivers in the area were Muslim, I would never let Kanya into a taxi on her own. There were also parts of London where we no longer went, but one Thursday, life for us in multicultural West London finally hit rock bottom. Somebody tried to abduct my wife.
Kanya and her Thai friend Nang took an afternoon off work and planned to meet in Harrow to go shopping. At about 2pm, Kanya was waiting at the bus stop around the corner from where we lived, when she noticed a blacked out van on the opposite side of the road approaching a set of traffic lights at speed. Suddenly, the driver, a black-bearded man of Eastern European appearance, wound down his window, ogled her and pulled out across two lanes of carriageway indicating his intention to turn right, which he did as soon as the lights changed. The road was deserted and Kanya was the only person waiting at the bus stop. She was already beginning to feel uneasy but, minutes later, when the van emerged from the turning and quickly headed in her direction she ran for the safety of a nearby doctors surgery only to find it was still closed for lunch. By this time, the driver had pulled up at the bus stop and got out of his van, presumably to wait for Kanya to return. Luckily, the bus arrived just then, she flagged it down and got on board before the bearded man could approach her.
Kanya was still in shock when I arrived home from work that evening, and it was some time before I could get her to tell me what had happened, but when she did, it was clear that this had been an attempted abduction. I was at a Licensing Committee meeting in Westminster eighteen months earlier when a police officer stated in evidence that most of the prostitution in Central London was operated by Albanians with women who had been either trafficked or abducted. This man certainly fit the description of an Albanian. I wanted to inform the police immediately, but Kanya would not let me. She had no confidence in the police and was terrified of any possible reprisal. She continued in this vein for some time so that by the time I managed to persuade her to report the matter, it was nearly two months after the event and the impetus had been lost — or had it?
The bus stop in question had been close to a junction well known to police as a “hot spot” for crime. Indeed, there had been several murders there and a set of surveillance cameras had been installed which nobody was supposed to know about. The police sent two officers from the local Community Safety Unit to see us. They were both nice young ladies, one Indian and the other Afro-Caribbean, very PC PCs, who were extremely sympathetic, but both said firmly that there was nothing to be done. I reminded them of the existence of the “secret” surveillance cameras that everybody knew about and suggested they ran back the recording to the day in question to see whether they could get the registration number of the van. They told us it was too far back and they would be unable to access the disc.
This seemed to be par for the course for the Metropolitan Police Service in general and the local Community Safety Unit in particular, very much into image, PR and sympathy but when it came to catching criminals and preventing crime, they were no longer up to the task.
I realised that at the age of 68 as I was then, I could no longer protect my wife, and as the police were not interested in doing so, I acted on the immortal words of Bret Maverick’s Pappy: “ If you can’t lick them and they won’t let you join them, get out of town.” That’s what we did.
Looking back after almost a year and a half, we have traded a desirable, two-bedroomed maisonette in a rough part of London for a five-bedroomed, four-building compound with a tropical garden in a quiet Thai village. The only thing I miss about England is the drive down to the coast at weekends to watch Portsmouth play at Fratton Par, and for the last few seasons I haven’t felt the need to do that too often.