‘Did you watch the Newsnight yesterday?’ John asked me. We were in a bistro of a railway station near John’s village, where I was visiting him last weekend. (Before you wrinkle your noses, let me tell you that the bistro came very highly recommended (OK, by John; and OK, primarily because it was cheap, but not only because of that; it was what I have often heard people describe as ‘good value for money’) for its selection of cakes.)
‘No, I didn’t. Should I have?’ I asked, examining the menu on the blackboard. My attention was immediately caught by the lemon drizzle cake, Victoria sponge cake, and ‘rich’ fruit cake.
‘David Starkey was on it and he created quite a kerfuffle,’ John said.
‘The gay historian?’
‘The very same, although I don’t know why you are bringing up his sexuality. You could have simply said historian,’ John said.
‘I have not used it as a term of abuse; it was a mere identifier in my mind,’ I said.
‘Do you happen to know another David Starkey who is also a historian but is not gay?’ John asked.
(This might be a good time to tell you something about John. He loves to argue and derives enormous pleasure from scoring petty points. He also likes to take a contrary position in an argument, and does not concern himself with trifles such as consistency and logic. Depending on my frame of mind, I find this tendency of his quaintly entertaining or maddeningly irritating. It sometimes has the effect of him getting sidetracked into non-essentials. It also means that in an argument it is difficult to pin him down to anything. One moment he is bawling about the genocide perpetrated by the Israeli forces in Gaza, the next minute he is berating you for calling the Chinese Asians. Woolly thinking is what I call it.)
‘I might as well ask you what the kerfuffle was about,’ I said, ‘I can see that you are itching to tell me.’
John then told me what the kerfuffle was about. I was informed that David Starkey was one of the panellists on Newsnight, along with another bloke called Owen Jones who has written a book about Chavs (but not, I was told, ridiculing them; the book is a passionate defence of the chavs and their chavy lifestyle; we are urged to understand why they are chavs and why they do chavy things; and we are pressed to feel guilty about it, as it is clearly the fault of non-chavs why chavs are chavs). In the programme Starkey said that Whites have become Blacks and—this is important to remember—not in an admiring way. He then spoke about the gang culture imported from the USA and the patois favoured by that sub-culture, which apparently is spoken by both Black and White youths who admire and imitate the violent subculture, according to Starkey; or as conveyed to me by John.
‘OK,’ I said. ‘Are you saying; rather is Starkey saying; no that’s not strictly correct either; do you think Starkey is saying: it is bad enough that the Blacks are imitating the violent gun-totting subculture, but things have come to a very sorry pass if the Whites too are succumbing to that culture?’
‘You are missing the point,’ John said.
‘And the point is?’
‘Starkey is not racist.’ John said in a tone that suggested his patience was running out.
‘But I never called Starkey racist. I called him gay,’ I said.
‘But others are calling him that,’ John persisted. ‘That’s a bit rich coming from the champagne socialists who wouldn’t know a working class person if he slapped them in the face. They live in their posh houses in Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath, are privately educated, and go to Oxbridge. They do not care a jot about the working class or the Blacks, but are the first to get on their moral high-horse and wag their fingers when someone has the courage to say the obvious. Stop staring at her.’
The ‘her’ in question was a young waitress in the bistro with an ass of a size and shape you could have placed your lap-top on without any danger of it toppling. It was clear as daylight that her panties, from the panty-line visible from under her tight skirt, were totally inadequate to cover her glutei.
‘Would you agree,’ I asked John, ‘that men find visible panty-lines sexually arousing? If you do, would include yourself in the group of panty-liners-aroused men?’
‘What are you on about?’
I nodded in the direction of the derriere of the waitress who happened to be bending at that minute.
‘You pervert,’ John said. ‘She is young enough to be your daughter.’
‘Firstly, she looks to me to be in her early 20s. Which means I would have had to be fifteen when I fathered her, ‘I said. ‘Secondly, you have got to admit that it is very difficult not to notice an ass that size when it is moving about in the room. It is not as if you seek it out; it seeks you out. Thirdly, if Rupert Murdoch can marry a woman who is younger than his grandchildren, why can’t I look at the ass of waitress in a bistro? It’s not as if there is a lot to entertain me here. It’s either that or listening to you.’
‘But what do you think?’ John asked me.
‘Starkey’s comments on the Newsnight you numbskull!’
‘Well,’ I chose my words carefully, ‘not having watched the original programme and having to depend on the notoriously unreliable witness such as you, I am not at all sure I can form a definite view about it. However, taking everything you have reported at its face value, this Starkey bloke was making sweeping generalizations.’
‘But was he wrong?’
‘In my experience sweeping generalizations often turn out to be incorrect.’
‘You can’t deny,’ John said ‘that in many youths belonging to the Afro-Caribbean community, violence is a way of life. The proportion of children growing up in single- parent families is disproportionately high in that community. You can’t deny that children growing up in two-parents families are more likely to achieve better grades in schools and less likely to turn to a life of crime.’
‘You keep on telling me what I can’t deny, when you must know that I can deny. What you mean is: I would be, in your opinion, wrong to deny whatever it is, in your view, I am denying,’ I felt I needed to clarify the semantics.
‘So you don’t deny?’ John asked.
‘I am not saying that either. I don’t have to deny anything because a) I have not said anything either in support or against what you said with regard to Afro-Caribbean community; and b) I neither agree nor disagree with your observations because I have better things to do than forming my views about sections of the society from television programmes on which historians with a screw loose make controversial statements,’ I said.
‘Controversial does not mean wrong, though,’ John said.
Just then the waitress came to take our orders. My initial impression was that her breasts were perhaps not fuller but were of wide diameter and occupied considerable space on the chest wall. Down below one could sense the dark hollow of a deep naval. The young woman had a kind of provincial charm about her. As I looked at her bovine face, looking expectantly back at me, I could see the trajectory of her life which, in fullness of time, would take her from waiting at the station bistro to working in the kitchens of the local primary school; she would marry her childhood sweetheart who worked in the building trade, and produce 2-3 children along the way. I could just about see her taking her clothes off in 20 years’ time for a charity calendar—by that time one could safely assume her ass would have reached the dimensions that would easily support a desk top —but I could not see her going out rioting and putting a brick through a police vehicle.
‘You have such mouth-watering selection of cakes. I can’t make up my mind. What would you recommend?’ I asked the waitress.
The waitress reacted to the question as if her whole life up to then was but a wait for this moment.
‘I personally think the Victoria sponge cake is simply out of this world . . .’ (So is your ass, I thought) ‘. . . but the lemon drizzle cake is very yummy too.’
‘What about the rich fruit cake?’ I asked. ‘That looks delicious.’
‘Oh! That is very yummy.’ It was clear that the woman’s repertoire when it came to describing the edibility and desirability of cakes was somewhat limited. But then, if she had access to the kind of verbal fusillade David Starkey has she wouldn’t be serving cakes in a bistro of a provincial railway station.
‘What about the prune and date pie?’ I asked.
The waitress turned and looked at the pie. 'That is . . .' she paused to think. '. . . Very yummy,’ she concluded.
‘They are all yummy, for Pete’s sake! Just order one of them. Tea for me.’ This was John.
‘What would you have, if you were ordering?’ I asked the waitress.
‘Oh . . .’ the waitress turned her head to the ceiling, pushed forth her chest, and inhaled deeply, the excitement of choosing between several cakes evidently being too much to bear . . . ‘they are all so yummy. I would eat all of them.’
‘I bet you would,’ I said, smiling.
‘Lemon drizzle cake for him,’ John intervened.
The waitress looked at me with questioningly.
‘Go on then,’ I said.
‘That’s one tea and a lemon drizzle cake. Would you like anything to drink, sir?’
‘How is your hot chocolate?’
‘It’s very yummy,’ the waitress said.
‘I see. Is it the type you get by inserting a sachet in the machine?’
The waitress became thoughtful. ‘I think,’ she said chewing on her pen, ‘it is machine-made, but I could check.’
‘Would you? Please?’
‘No problem, sir,’ the waitress said with a broad smile revealing a charming gap between her front teeth.
‘Oh for f**k’s sake! Tea for him,’ John said.
The waitress looked at me with raised eyebrows and shrugged her shoulder, a gesture I felt she should forego given what it did to the fleshy pouch under her chin. She then turned round and rolling her hips walked towards the kitchen.
‘If you have finished ogling at her,’ John continued petulantly, ‘can you tell me what is wrong about being controversial?’
‘Sorry. Are we still on the David Starkey business?’
‘Nothing wrong about being controversial, per se,’ I said. ‘But if you are going to say something which flies in the face of what everyone else thinks, or any sane person, at any rate, thinks, you should be prepared to take the flak.’
‘I don’t think there was anything racist in what Starkey said,’ John said.
‘My point stands,’ I said. ‘I was talking about sane persons.’
‘This is the problem with today’s Britain,’ John was getting a bit agitated now. From the corner of my eyes I saw a big group of locals entering the bistro, including an old man who was walking so slowly and gingerly, leaning on his Zimmer frame, that there was a possibility, I thought, that his heart would give out before he reached the table.
‘Would you not say that being brought up by both your parents is far more preferable to being brought up by a single parent? The problem with many Afro-Caribbean households is the absence of a father figure. A single mother is going to have difficulties in restraining a 16 year old boy intent on going out and creating trouble.’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘that depends. In the households where you say the father is absent, it may be that in a significant proportion of cases the father is absent because he is in jail. In which case it might be argued that it is actually a good thing that the father is not around; he couldn’t be a good influence on the child. Also, you can’t deny that there are certain advantages of having children you haven’t brought up.’
‘What might they be?’
‘Well, if you are not involved in their upbringing, you don’t have to blame yourself for how they turn up. Also, you won’t be first person they will run to when they are in trouble.’
‘You have a genius for missing the point,’ John said, shaking his head.
‘You were the one going on about single-parent families in the Afro-Caribbean community being responsible for the London riots,’ I pointed out.
‘The point I am trying to make, which you are so diligently avoiding,’ John said, pressing his palms in front of him, as if squeezing them for inspiration, ‘is: a culture of violence, a culture that does not value anything, has become prevalent in certain sections of our society.’ He flicked open his android and continued: ‘Starkey was bang on target:
“a violent, nihilistic, gangster culture has become the fashion. And black and white, boy and girl, operate in this language together, this language which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that’s been intruded in England, and this is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country.”
Tell me what is wrong with what Starkey said?’
I took the android from John. ‘Here,’ I said, 'is what is wrong with what Starkey said. He says:
“What’s happened is that a substantial section of the chavs . . . have become black. The whites have become black."'
John looked a bit shifty. ‘Starkey is not a politician. He does not have to be politically correct all the time. He does not have to pander to the sentiments of everyone.’
‘Agreed. But there is a difference between being politically incorrect and being plain wrong and obnoxious. If you read what he says in totality what he seems to be saying that the ‘gangster, nihilistic culture' is some sort of deadly viral disease which the oh-so-good Whites have caught from the despicable Blacks. If only these criminal Blacks were not amongst us to corrupt the White youth, things would be all right. That’s what he is implying. Which sounds like total bollocks to me.’
‘Are you suggesting that the gangster, gun culture with its lingo was not imported into this country by Blacks? OK not all of them, but by a subsection of them. Indeed Starkey clarifies what he means by Whites have become Black. Only the blinkered lefties would not see it.’
‘So what exactly is your or Starkey’s point? Even if what he is saying is true, the question, which he neglects to answer, is: why has a subsection of Blacks begun identifying with that culture? And why have the Whites—or a sub-section of them—begun to feel attracted towards it? Also, I am not sure that everyone involved in these riots, in all the cities and towns where the riots took place, was a member of the gangster culture. Not all thugs and criminals play gangster rap and speak in Jamaican patois.’
The waitress returned carrying on a tray tea and lemon drizzle cake. ‘Here we go,’ she said, putting the tray on the table. Enjoy your pudding.’ She straightened up. ‘Is there anything you’d need?’ Yes, I'd need to dip my spoon in your pudding and waggle it about. I tried to steer away my thoughts from sex. ‘That looks delicious, thank you.’ She gave me her gap-toothed smile again and, walked away, her behind shivering.
‘How do natives in these parts entertain themselves?’ I asked turning towards John. ‘I mean, there can’t be much going on here to keep them occupied constructively all of the time. The pleasures of bestiality or injecting each other with pig serum ought to wear thin after a while. It has got to be sex in the loft of the barn, rolling about in hay.’
John gave no indication that he had heard me. ‘I would much rather listen to Starkey than to that hypocritical bitch Emily Maitlis. What has she got common with the people of Croydon? Has she gone even a mile south to the river? When I was in Cambridge, I did not meet anyone who spoke in a Croydon accent?’ He said.
John grew up in Croydon, and although he no longer lives there—because like anyone who had any capacity he got the hell out of Croydon at the earliest opportunity—he feels a special bond towards Croydon, although it is difficult for me to fathom whether he has nostalgia for the place itself or for the people who live there.
‘Emily Maitlis may not have anything common with people of Croydon, but neither does David Starkey. At least she does not demonise people of Croydon or the Brothers. And you did not hear anyone with Croydon accent in Cambridge because most of them think University and education are towns in India which they have no desire to visit. And the few like you who did, hid the accent because they were ashamed of it. Nothing wrong in that; I'd be ashamed of that accent. Finally, I ask you this question, and think carefully before you answer: whom would you rather have sex with given a chance: Maitlis or Starkey?’
‘If you could pull your mind away from sex, difficult as it is for you, you would be astonished to know that the BBC did not send a single reporter to Croydon while it burned. They sent 437 reporters to Beijing Olympics, but not a single reporter bothered to take a mini-cab to go to Croydon when streets were being razed and even the police were running for cover. If you ask me why the riots occurred, I’d say that because no one cares about Croydon,’ John finished with a theatrical flourish.
‘May be no mini-cab driver was prepared to drive down to Croydon; have you considered that possibility? It would have to be a suicidal mini-cab driver to agree to drive to Croydon. Also, given a choice where would you rather be: Beijing where China was hosting the greatest show on earth; or Croydon which is a shithole? Seems like a no-brainer to me. I wouldn’t go to Croydon even when there are no riots—why, you got out of it at the first opportunity—I am not going to risk my neck when gun totting gangsters speaking Jamaican patois are marauding through the city centre, although I should clarify that it is the guns and not the patois that frighten me. Also, I don’t think that the looters were going round Croydon thinking ‘the BBC doesn’t care about us; I know what I am going to do; I am going to set high-street shops on fire; only then the world will know about the unbearable pain of my existence.’ They were going round the high street thinking ‘I am going to take home a plasma screen and not going to pay for it.’
‘So that’s your take on it? The rioters were looters, full stop. You don’t feel the need to figure out how things have come to this pass in our society?’ John asked.
‘The rioters were looters. This was not a political movement; there was no civil disorder. These guys—I use the word guys in a gender neutral way; it is possible that there were many women amongst the looters—were simply out to create trouble, cause mayhem, and help themselves to that which they did not have but fervently desired. They could not afford it, so they looted it opportunistically. It was greed.’
‘And what is your solution?’
‘I don’t have a solution. I am not a politician or a charity-mugger or an academic or a gay historian. I don’t need to come up with a solution. In any case, there is no solution. This country is going to the dogs and there is nothing anyone can do about it. I’d rather spend such time as is left thinking about that big-assed waitress, talking of whom I think you should tip her generously.’
‘Why the f**k should I tip her? You were the one ogling at her fat t*ts.’
‘I thought you were the one who cared about the working classes. She may even have a family in Croydon.’