Metropolitan Sign Language

Walking recently in an unfamiliar part of the East End (perhaps I'd been there before, it just felt unfamiliar since I appeared to be the only Englishman within a half-mile radius), it took me four attempts to find someone who understood and spoke enough English to give me directions.

This kind of thing is not uncommon nowadays in our wonderful 'rainbow capital', where native British people are (in more ways than one) an endangered species.

After a while you become adept at sign language: tapping the wrist to ask the time; pointing to items in shops and holding up fingers to indicate how many; making shivering or sweating gestures in lieu of proper chats about the weather; and so on.

Unfortunately, such a repertoire of basic gestures is inadequate for asking the more pertinent questions, such as: "Which former communist state do you come from?" "Are those seven kids ALL yours?" "HOW much are you getting in benefits?" "What exactly is in this curry?" "You’re in a Western European city, not some desert tent, so could you PLEASE take that mask off?" And, "When will you be returning home?"