3 AM Tuesday 25 September 2012 Nunhead Heights.
Bette Midler joked on American TV ages ago – maybe 1985 or it could have been 1995 –
“When it’s 1 PM in New York it’s 1973 in London.”
I think I got the quote right. I’m not sure if she was the first one to say it but I heard it from her first. Bette Midler is the American singer and the movie star.
This Saturday I stumbled upon something out of 1970s America.
I was coming home from my first benefit comedy gig in ten years. I never get asked to do benefits. I’ll do them if asked. So I was walking on Rye Lane by the train station in Peckham Saturday – Peckham is Downtown Nunhead – and I see police in front of Khan’s Bargain Limited shop. A group of Black people were across the street. Khan’s is a huge variety shop – huge by Peckham standards.
I had a feeling I knew what the problem was.
All those black people across from the Arab-owned shop. Or maybe the shop wasn’t owned by Arabs but Pakistanis or Algerians or could be anyone. The group called them “Arabs”.
I thought: Race.
I couldn’t be sure. I asked the pretty police lady officers what was up. They couldn’t tell me, the police whispered. So I asked “Is it race related?” And the tall girl cop smiled and answered “It may become that.”
Remember, this is Peckham. For people in New York think Flatbush Avenue or 145th Street. Mary Poppins don’t live in this part of London no more. Or in most parts of London.
You know I do a radio show? On Resonance FM in London. The absolute best arts radio station in the world and that isn’t just my opinion. Richard of the Dulwich Ukulele Club was on the show tonight and he filled in the details. He knows what happened because, well, I forgot to ask how he knew about it, but he knew it.
He told me that a black teen had bought a Blackberry from Khans. Like most Peckham shops they don’t just sell one thing. Shops in Peckham sell phones and hairpieces. They sell African cassava and woolen gloves. Money transfers and shoes. It reminds me of Brooklyn. There was a hat shop Fulton Street at Layfayette Avenue in Brooklyn that shared space with a psychologist’s office. Funny.
Anyway, Kahn’s sells real fruit berries and Blackberries by RIM.
The Blackberry didn’t work, according to the lad, and the boy asked for a refund.
The “Arabs” gave him half his money back – £70 or about $100. The boy made a stink.
They called him a “black bastard” and forced him out of the shop – according to the black people –
chasing him down the street.
There were 20 “Arabs” from the store, the protesters said, maybe 50 with knives and sticks and cans running after this boy. How were that many people in the shop? That part didn’t make sense. And cans? Of peas or beans? Cans?
Richard knew of the kid – probably through another friend of ours who worked in a school for bad children. Richard told me he had tattoos. They forced him to run across the street to seek refuge in the train station. His hand was somehow cut.
Now the group of black people were asking that Khan’s be boycotted.
One black man had a sign.
“This is Britain.
Asians go home”
I laughed and I thought of Crown Heights, Koreatown, Jessie Jackson and Reverend Sharpton and all the battles over race that were fought in America years ago. The race issue hasn’t been solved in America but a least it isn’t new.
10 PM on a Saturday night in Peckham is 1973 in America.
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