Thursday, May 28, 2015

Student Life in London

When you remember a place there are certain associations that you make and they are imprinted on your mind forever. They come to define the place and its people for ever and what is etched on my mind about the City of London is not Big Ben, Trafalgar Square or Buckingham Palace but rather it's numerous smoky pubs. In the 80s there were no rules that confined smoking to any particular place and it is difficult to imagine now that there are British Pubs that are not filled with cigarette smoke. In my student days everyone seemed to be carrying a pack of Benson & Hedges or Rothmans. Pubs were popular places to visit and the big nights for us Ugandan students were Wednesday at the Portlands Pub near the Great Portland Street Tube station and Fridays at Jools a pub near Edgware Road Station. There were other pubs at Charing Cross, Kings Cross, Paddington and Euston stations but Portlands and Jools were our favorites.

It was not by accident that we chose pubs closest to the Tube because the underground train, was the only transportation we could afford as international students so they were great meeting points when one wanted to avoid walking on rainy summer or spring days or cold autumn and winter days. On the days in between we did not totally abstain from the Heineken, Fosters and Stella Artois pints that were filled at the bar taps. We were hooked on beer from the barrel having only drank bottled beer in Uganda; and on week days we patronized the bars that were closest to the class that we were attending on a particular day.

The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE,) is part of a network of Colleges that make up the University of London and so depending on the subjects that you picked you might find yourself at any of the Colleges for a particular class. My Company Law and International Human Rights Law classes were at the LSE Campus on Houghton Street, across from the home of the British Broadcasting Corporation and on that little street that was more like a narrow alley; was The Three Tuns Pub, a little gem hidden away for students but open for all to enjoy the school's culture.
The law of Treaties and Insurance Law were taught either at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) or the close by Institute of Advanced Legal Studies between Euston and Russell Square Tube Stations. The Institute had a large library where we prepared for classes and did our research and in its basement was the jewel of all pubs, The Winnie Mandela pub, patronized by many African students who fancied themselves as future leaders of a free and liberated Azania. One could reach it without negotiating the unpredictable British weather and it was easily a favorite for an after class soirée .

On Friday and Saturday nights we danced in the basement at a place near Great Portland Street or if we felt inspired we took the train north to Finchley to dance at Les Elites night club. There was also a gem of a pub in Archway where two Ugandan friends lived. The pub at Archway had a liberal owner who understood that we still wanted him to pull pints after the call for 'Last Orders at the Bar' so he locked us in and allowed us to continue drinking illegally after 11pm until we run out of money or stamina. Sundays were a day for recovering from many hangovers and I don't remember ever finding my way to Church unless my mother was in town. I always wondered how she sniffed out her favorite Pentecostal churches, which unlike pubs were the hardest thing to find in London.

One freezing night we had Ugandan visitors from Paris and took them to the pub at Great Portland Street. When it was time to leave, late in the night or early in the morning if you like, (it was too late to catch a train;) we all tried to fit in the back of one black cab. There were about six of us and the cab driver told us firmly that he could only carry four passengers. We were inebriated and defiant and refused to get out so he simply drove us to a police station. Now being the outspoken law student among the lot, I thought I could challenge the law using that good old line - 'Are you arresting us because we are black?' And as usual my big mouth got me in trouble. I was whisked through the back door, into a police vehicle and taken to another police station leaving my friends picketing in the cold outside the first police station demanding my immediate release. The Police officers were very courteous and turned me loose in the wee hours of the morning.

When I arrived at our flat in Finsbury Park I found my exhausted friends worried but waiting faithfully and the party continued. This would not be my last brush with the law in London and usually each occasion followed many pints of beer and yes, there was a bit of profiling by the Police, like the time they thought we were breaking into our home because we were knocking at a window - instead of the door - but most times we were not blameless.

At 50 I know that I was not in London to deepen my understanding of the law. I was there to enjoy a new way of life that was not structured by any authority and I was very lucky to leave after a couple of years with a Postgraduate Diploma and Master of Laws degree.

 feeling drunk

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