An International Perspective
Given the little recent national ill will and local difficulty, our Mayfair man recalls his many travels, friendships and enlightenment he has discovered around the world from all people regardless of country, creed or colour
Column by Guy Shepherd
The tumultuous upheaval within these fair isles over the last fortnight has already bought great changes to many aspects of everyday life. As a writer for a Riddle Magazine, I feel that it is important to clarify some changes in the use of language, as recently dictated by both national and social media, based on personal experience and altered from an autobiographical perspective. I will concentrate on two words which have been in ready use recently.
Despite growing up in the relative isolation of rural Buckinghamshire, it has always been evident to me that I am a socialite. I love people. Private schooling in Oxfordshire and Wiltshire might be perceived to have some limitation but, no, I made friends from every continent around the world, bar the two cold ones to the north and south. A recent 25th anniversary leavers’ reunion was testimony to how close many of us still remain. In those days, the post war model that became the EEC as a genuinely admired force for peace was being gradually replaced by the idea of a super state. Many people did not like this new direction and I still rue the day that I did not buy an “Up Your’s, Delors” bumper sticker for my first car.
What I actually did was embrace my international cousins. Numerous French exchanges were eclipsed when I left school and drove, with two great friends, in a camper van across Europe into the (until very recent) Eastern Block, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Italy and France. Points of interest included a horrific visit to a disabled children’s orphanage in Romania whose occupants had been abandoned after the collapse of Nicolae Ceausescu’s despicable regime. It was the first time that I realised that I could not cope mentally with the hardships that many in this world are forced to endure. On a political note, we were refused entry in our van to Israel because we had been travelling through Arab lands. I found this most perplexing as a historical Jew and British passport holder.
The trip catalysed a thirst for meeting people throughout the globe with subsequent trips, during my student years, to India, Nepal, Thailand, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras, atop the usual jollies to Scotland and France. I am very proud yet sad to be one of the last tourists in those days to visit the jewel of my travels, Kashmir, despite Indian army soldiers popping away at local freedom fighters and vice versa. I made friends on both sides as the journey traversed the idyllic waterways around Srinigar. It is a personal goal to unite peoples in friendship and peace wherever I go. Even when a career limited the time I could spend away, I still managed trips to Canada, the USA and Caribbean. It was only the financial limitations of worldwide recession, EU disintegration and personal divorce that put a (temporary) stop to all that.
Britain has been a melting pot of people from all over the globe for over two thousand years. Britain is built on migration to and from its shores. Romans, Vikings, Normans, Irish, Americans, Indians, Jamaicans, Poles and many others have all helped to shape this nation, some as conquerors, others as refugees but most as economic migrants. They are the backbone of Britain and I dream that this relationship will last another two thousand years and more. My own family are no exception. My father’s family hail from Derbyshire/ Yorkshire and, as far back as I can work out in chronological terms, they are English. My mother’s family arrived from Iberia to London in the 1680’s. They were Serphardis escaping the Inquisition. Cromwell had given Jews clemency about 30 years earlier.
This community has made an invaluable contribution to Britain ever since. You may recall from a previous article that my own great uncle was the first Jew awarded a Victoria Cross in 1914, as an officer in an Indian cavalry regiment. My grandfather was involved in both world wars before he went to live and work in Jamaica, where he married my Trinidadian grandmother and my mother was born.
Informed choices are built on education. I always loved school for which I am so lucky. I think it ultimately a result of loving to meet people, whether in a classroom or on a rugby pitch. I was one of the last few that had to learn Ancient Greek at prep school, which made Latin a doddle. The Arts were always my favourite although I wish I had concentrated a little more on the Sciences, which I now find fascinating. So English Literature and Art were the life blood of my education which were transformed into A levels along with Business Studies.
My university choice was entirely fuelled by the desire to socialise. The recent trip to Eastern Europe and the Middle East catalysed that desire. Oh, and Manchester happened to be the epicentre of all things Acid House, of which I am a dedicated devotee. I studied Arabic Language and Comparative Religion as a joint honours degree. Having just witnessed the love and compassion within the Islamic world, I wanted to learn more. My disappointment was acute when I realised that 95 per cent of my class were already fluent in this most beautiful of languages. They were using the degree as a melting pot for radical politics and I was left in their wake still trying to understand ‘a b c’ and ‘1 2 3’. I eventually left the class after refusing to burn the American flag one lunch break. It was a fascinating insight, nonetheless, into a bad side of humanity that has so dramatically tarnished the reputation of a wonderful people and religion. Ten years later, as buildings crumbled, I cried as I remembered my class ‘mate’s’ fury.
But Comparative Religion provided the tonic for my social quest. I am still great friends with some of the incredible people I met on that course. Buoyed by a parallel, wild, Bacchanalian life, we learnt through literature, music and art about the incredible diversities of human beliefs, laws, creeds plus their inevitable similarities. Delving into the Torah, Mahabharata and Koran was a feast of devotional bliss. Highlights included reading Sufi poetry, going to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan concerts, a Rabbi lecturer teaching Hinduism and writing my dissertation on Jamaican Religion, including the contrasts between Baptists, Obeah and Rastafari. It was the best education a man of the world could wish for.
It certainly helped me when it came to making informed choices regarding my business. In my formative work years, travelling around Britain and Ireland selling fine jewellery to retailers, character assessment was fundamental when discovering who the chancers were, who was legitimate, who would pay, who would not. By the time I opened my shop in London, these judgements became critical. GUY&MAX is a digital design emporium. This art translates into every language which means that our clients are from every corner of the globe. Email and 3D printing means that we can actually communicate this without ever meeting the customer. However, this is rare because most lovers of fine jewellery demand the personal service and tactility of product in reality. This is great news for me as it enables me to sit and talk to people about my passion, usually at the happiest moments of their lives. Mayfair is a microcosm of the world’s more privileged populations so our client base includes Brits, Europeans, Arabs, Americans, Russians, Indians, Chinese, Antipodeans and Japanese, many of which live in or at least visit London often. Our British design will always be innovative which I hope will continue to inspire patrons around the world.
But this is not without its risks so we have placed some simple measures to ensure that we do business with credible people, wherever they are from. We have an appointment only system and by asking somebody for an initial credit, address and passport check, we can hopefully eliminate the risk of criminals, fraudsters, gangsters, dictators and terrorists visiting us. It is a common sense approach so that we can continue to try to improve our business, whether from within Britain or to the global community, using our genuine love of good people and great design. Nobody said it was going to be easy but I can’t wait for the new challenges that await us.