Thursday, 23 August 2007

Yobs and racism

I read with some interest Jeremy Vine's piece on tackling thugs and antisocial yobs on Auntie's website the other day, and recognised the dilemma Vine found himself in right away.

For those who didn't read the original posting or the subsequent follow-ups in tehlondonpaper, there was a burly c**t being sexually aggressive to a girl on the tube; he got off and as the doors were closing one of the other passengers flicked him a v-sign. Unfortunately for the passenger, the tube doors jerked open again, as they so often have a bizarre habit of doing, and the thug launched himself back onto the train and started knocking seven bells out of this poor chap.

Naturally, everybody in the carriage just sat back and pretended to hide behind their Metros until he'd gone away.

You see, I've been in the unfortunate position of having some piece of pond scum holding me round the throat and divesting me of a mobile phone, an Oyster card and £45, and during that unpleasant encounter who should ride by but some big bloke on a bike, with headlights blazing, and - probably stupidly given I didn't know if my attacker had a knife - I called out: "Help, help!" And then when he kept going : "Can't you see he's attacking me?"

The unhappy truth is that people seem happy to stick their noses into every other aspect of everybody else's life, but seem less encouraged to do so when there's something blatantly illegal going on.

To give a less extreme example, I commute through Streatham and Tulse Hill every day, both parts of London that seem to have been in the news a lot this year for various stabbings and shootings and other nefarious high-jinks.

Yesterday afternoon, this tall black dude got on at Streatham carrying a shopping bag with two mops in it, and sat down on the bank of seats directly in front of me.

I thought no more of this until about twenty seconds later I caught a whiff of cigarette smoke, looked up, and saw this guy was openly having a crafty fag on the train, something that has been illegal for at least as long as I can remember.

Of course the proper thing to do would have been to challenge him and say: "Either put that out now or get off this train at the next stop."

But neither me, nor the other eight or nine people who were sitting nearby, did anything. You don't pick a fight with a six foot black man in south London, after all. But for a moment everybody was feeling slightly angry and slightly threatened by an antisocial dickhead.

After he had got off the train - of his own accord - at the next station, he leered up against the window, staggered along the platform, and his eyes were as wide as saucers, so clearly there was something else besides tobacco going on there, and I'm glad I didn't tackle him.

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking back from the station and there was another Afro-Caribbean kid, in stupid trousers and a backward baseball cap with its label still attached, openly defacing the front shutters of a pub with a can of spray paint.

This was next to an open grocery with several people picking fruit from the outside display, and a bus shelter with about ten more people in it. Nobody was raising a finger.

Going back to my mugger, who wasn't black but I think - it was twilight, I didn't see his face properly - was probably south Asian. And as we know, nobody helped me then either.

The reason being everyone was afraid that they'd be armed, with a knife or worse.

It's true that once you've been a victim of crime your liberal credentials go flying out of the window, but I haven't quite joined the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade just yet. And nor am I frightened by this silly season epidemic of stories in the right-wing press that are specifically designed to scare us stupid. In short, I don't think Britain's going to the dogs.

Nevertheless there are questions here I think we have to answer:
  1. Why are a disproportionate number of my brushes with criminality with those of ethnic minorities?
  2. Is it actually the truth that white people are just scared of ethnic minorities because of media-hype? Is this a racist position?
  3. What can be done?
My answers below, but I'd be interested to know yours:
  • I think this speaks actually only of my personal experience. London is a diverse city and ethnically homogenous parts of the country, such as Cornwall, have an equal number of white people who are shitheads. However, there is the unavoidable truth that a large amount of the gun crime in the news has been black-on-black. Of course, this begs the question, are we being manipulated by our news sources? Probably, yes, but that doesn't mean that all those teenaged kids weren't murdered this year.
  • I think a number of white people are scared and am certain there is influence from media sources, your own class background, exposure to people from other countries, and so on. But importantly, given the number of Londoners who live quite happily alongside each other without a problem, there's no need to be. I don't think I'm a racist and I don't think most other people are either.
  • Fuck knows.

Friday, 17 August 2007

I want Stephen Fry to be my big gay uncle

One of my great, but lesser known fears, is that I will die before having had the chance to have a chat with Stephen Fry. It would be an exquisite pleasure; like swimming in chocolate. I don't know that we'd have anything much to talk about, but it would be wonderful to be able to absorb some of him ... mentally.

I mention this having just watched a talking heads documentary celebrating the 50th birthday of the nation's favourite cuddly intellectual. And, like so many other shows touched by Fry, it provided the televisual equivalency of a mug of Ovaltine, some slippers and a pair of paisley-patterned jim-jams. The usual vox-pop 'slebs were bused in from Highgate and made to sit in a BBC studio done up to look like Nigella Lawson's kitchen, and all were ebullient in their praise, in particular Hugh Laurie, who hadn't shaved off his beard but had moderated his accent somewhat, which gave the effect of a Cambridge-educated House.

JK Rowling also popped up, Fry having narrated the Harry Potter audiobooks, sitting on a set with a full set of books behind her, just in case anybody forgot what she did for a living. I do feel a bit sorry for JK. I fear this is going to be her fate now that she's finished ejaculating Harry all over the page; to wind up as a rent-a-quote on retrospective TV shows.

The whole was cut with various skits from A Bit of Fry and Laurie; my favourite sketch from which I'm trying to figure out how to post here. I came in a bit too late for that show, only really graduating to 'adult' comedy shows, via Red Dwarf and The Brittas Empire, in about 1992, so I only ever recall seeing a couple of episodes of, I think, the last series, on their first run. But I have to say it all looked bloody funny, and I may have to track down a DVD; YouTube only satisfies so far, after all.

Above all I love Stephen for facility and gifts with language, and I think that comes over in the shows - comedy or otherwise - that he's been a part of, and that's why I want him in my Famous Family, which also includes Judi Dench as my Grandmother, and Joanna Lumley as my Wicked Aunt.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

News Watch!

The Sunday Times reports that 'comedy actress' Dawn French is 'moving to Cornwall to die'.

The lovely Dawn, who is not suffering from cancer or AIDS or anything that a couple of hours on a treadmill once or twice a week wouldn't cure, is apparently convinced that she is going to die young - The Times, in grisly style, notes that her father committed suicide, which is less something you die of and more something you inflict upon yourself - and is setting her affairs in order at the venerable age of 49.

Apparently she has a 40-room mansion overlooking a smugglers' cove that was built for the same family who built the house that inspired Manderley in Rebecca.

My Sunday

Following Friday's ever-so restrained night of excess I slept for four hours on Saturday morning, and planned on having a very long, satisfying sleep the following night, of the kind that you just don't get any more. So, I started watching Mike Leigh's All or Nothing on BBC2 at about 10:40 but after 20 minutes decided that I just couldn't hack it - even for a Mike Leigh film - and beetled off to bed.

Only to be woken at about 7:50 by Elderly Neighbour's Greco-Cockney friend, who has a tight blonde perm, wears ill-advised pink boob tubes, and has a voice like Harry Enfield doing Stavros; "Aw, just lookit your plants innit," she boomed over the back gardens. "Ow is you gettin your lemon tree so boo'iful? Jesis Christ, Mary, an lookit them rahses, innit, dey is aww pink!"

Mary's garden is indeed boo'iful, and she does indeed have a little lemon tree that, admirably for North London, has about three little, approximately testicle-sized lemons dangling from its branches. She also has roses (pink ones) and - not being particularly green-fingered myself - what I think might be a begonia.

But at 8 in the morning, I don't like hearing it appraised. And in a voice that could teach Brian Blessed something about projection.


After a few days off, spent a good hour at the gym, forty minutes on various training machines followed by some time in the weights room, most of which was spent waiting for one of the machines to come free. When it did, the little jerk who'd been using it - I could tell he was a jerk because he'd put the little peg at an absurdly high weight and was making loud snorting noises like a foghorn enduring a 36-hour labour throughout - then didn't bother wiping down the - by now sweaty - machine. It is lucky I don't have OCD or something.

As it is I am worried I will catch body-builder disease or something. These guys have their own little - muscly - clique and, maybe it's just me, but I can't see how the gym is a social thing. I think the gym is something to be endured to keep up a reasonable level of fitness to be in better shape for the things life throws at you. I like to be in and out in as little time as possible and not to stand around by the machines flexing.

Cycling with your friends is a social activity ... football in the park is a social activity. Gyms are just utilities.

Although in its favour, the muscly clique does seem to be predominantly Arsenal supporting, which given our proximity to Golders Green is a surprise.


An email from the parents, currently driving round the Canadian Rockies - I hope in an open top Mustang - expressed dismay that I wasn't around the other day when they spent the night at a large and strange hotel that put them in mind of The Shining. I don't have the heart to tell them I've never seen that film.