Anyone who gets a morning train to Waterloo from Chiswick station cannot fail to have noticed Damian and Kris, who run a coffee cart at the station entrance, selling what might just be the best coffee in Chiswick (Italian blend Bristot, with beans from Brazil and Guatemala), and pastries from 6.30am – 12.00pm Monday to Friday.
It’s their unfailing cheerfulness and courtesy which make them stand out, as well as the quality of their coffee. Like a Polish Ant & Dec, they keep up a constant happy banter – “How was your weekend? What great weather. Have a good day …” Like the Geordie duo, their patter is professional but you also get the sense that they’re genuinely nice guys who like people and want to spread a little sunshine. Damian says: “We’re some of the first people that customers meet in the morning. If you’re going to be grumpy you will spoil their day”.
Talking politics is something they generally shy away from, but now that we know what Theresa May has in mind – that EU citizens who’ve been here five years should be able to stay – I asked them what they felt about the Brexit / EU migrant debate.
This is my home
Damian came here in 2006. He comes from Dabrowa Gornicza in Silesia, where there are plenty of jobs in mining and industry. Aged 24, he just wanted to experience life in a global city. The plan was to stay for six months, but he could see opportunities in London that he didn’t see at home, so instead of completing his degree in marketing he stayed here as a barista, working in Giraffe in Chiswick High Rd, which is where he met Kris. They got a flat together in Chiswick and decided to go in to business.
“After 11 years I feel safe” he says. “This is my home”. Despite the publicly optimistic face they have been worried. Like everyone else he didn’t expect the leave vote: “24 hours before nobody expected it. The next day you switched on the TV and it was a completely different reality”. In the days following the referendum they had abuse from passers-by, variations on “F off back to your own country”, but this was far outweighed by the outpouring of warmth from their customers.
Now we have some idea what the Government has in mind, he’s relieved. “It’s better than nothing”. As we talk we both realise that these negotiations have a long way to go and this is just the opening gambit, but the five year time period would put them both safely in the ‘stay’ category. Damian and Kris are both settled here, married to Polish women and have children whose English is better than their Polish. Damian and Jola have two boys, Bartus and Kacper; Kris and Kacia have baby Stanley. Damian raises issues that hadn’t even occurred to me – “We have mortgages, loans. What would happen to those if we got sent back?”
They consider themselves lucky to be in Chiswick; they realise that London is different to the rest of the country as it’s easy to get work and appreciate how in a small rural town people might feel threatened by migration. Even so, since the referendum they have seen an antagonism to foreigners which they hadn’t experienced before – a Polish grandmother talking to her grandchild in Polish in the primary school playground told to speak English for example – but on the whole they think Poles are hard-working, keep their heads down, don’t invite trouble and are accepted. The Polish economy has experienced an upturn, many Poles have returned and Damian thinks younger people are opting to stay in Poland now.
He wasn’t joking about the hard working bit. When they finish at the coffee cart they both head off to their full time jobs – Kris to Giraffe in Victoria, Damian to his job as a barista at Heathrow’s Terminal 2. A hundred hour week is not unusual, but they are steadily working their way towards their dream of opening their own café. Powodzenia! (Good luck)