I have been walking about looking through the eyes of Xoriyo, an eight year old Somali girl who is one of the characters in an online piece I am making as Writer in Residence at Wakefield Literature Festival.
Xoriyo is temporarily housed with her family in the notorious Initial Accommodation Centre for asylum seekers, Angel Lodge, located under the walls of Wakefield Prison next to the railway station. Despite being run by G4S, it really is called Angel Lodge, I didn’t make that up.
Xoriyo is fascinated by the English language she is learning mostly from her Father but also from the station announcements and from signs. Some of which are puzzling:
MARMALADE ON THE SQUARE
CROSS STREET SHOPS
NO RENT NO CATCH
WE HAVE MOVED (NEXT TO ICELAND)
Even more confusing was to round a corner and find herself not only in a different country and a different language, but a different time.
When Xoriyo has been in England a little longer she might easily come to think from TV that England exists in many times zones at once, but mostly in the past, where people live in big houses, ride in carriages and have servants.
What she doesn’t know yet, is that film companies often use this fine part of Wakefield not as itself but as Georgian London, just as they use Canadian cities as stand-ins for San Francisco and New York. (Though if we ever get uppity about this we should think of poor Bradford which, as the city’s unselfconscious film newsletter proudly announced, has been used for its resemblance to post WW2 Birmingham.)
Xoriyo and her family don’t know where they will end up. People only stay in Angel Lodge for about two weeks until, in the friendly language of Hospitality UK, they are ‘dispersed’. Maybe to be near family and friends in Sheffield or Cardiff, maybe even to top-hatted London but not, Xoriyo hopes, as far as ‘next to Iceland’.