The sailor dispute

March 30, 2007 at 10:45 am (blog, UK NEWS)

Iran seizes 15 UK sailors from what it claims were its waters. Britain responds by saying they were plucked from Iraqi waters. (So that’s alright, then.) The real loser in all this is Iraq. The poor country – to the occupying power its waters regarded as sovereign as those of the Thames Estuary. We are truly back in colonial times.

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March 28, 2007 at 2:27 pm (Espresso, UK NEWS)

The Iranian government is clearly itching to get bombed. Taking British soldiers hostage is very cheeky. They should be released immediately. But just as parents often deny teenagers’ demands we should refuse military intervention. President Ahmadinejad will then have to dye his hair purple, lock himself in his bedroom and listen to Coldplay.

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The hardest word

March 27, 2007 at 3:12 pm (Espresso)

“I’m sorry,” is a common British refrain. Except, that is, when it comes to apologising for slavery. Today a protestor interrupted a service at Westminster Abbey to commemorate the abolition of the Slave Trade Act 200 years ago. “You should be ashamed,” the man, Toyin Abgetu, shouted at Tony Blair, who was there, as was the woman who recently won an Oscar for her portrayal of Helen Mirren. It probably took poor Tony a moment to realise it wasn’t the war he was referring to. Why is it so hard to say sorry? Because most of the clothes we wear, like my trainers, are made by near slaves in countries like Macau (which I thought was a bird).

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Dead or alive?

March 26, 2007 at 4:35 pm (Uncategorized)


Meet Knut. There’s actually a debate about whether Berlin zoo’s orphaned polar bear should be put down. (Being reared by humans might be too much for it, it is claimed.) Can’t bear the thought.

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Stick your finger

March 26, 2007 at 2:22 pm (blog)


This game, fresh from Tehran, involves a group of boys and girls sticking their fingers into each other’s fists when called to. The one who ends up with a free finger loses. Not much of a game, but an example of extremely safe sex. The hands belong to Iranian students I met in Holland Park, London the other week.

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Mind the map

March 25, 2007 at 5:41 pm (blog)

The bald patch on the back of my head resembles the shape of Iran. It’s a patriotic patch, I tell my doctor, that reflects my worries over the prospect of war. She’s not convinced.

“Am I going to die?” I say. I want her to say “no” but she doesn’t.

“Death”, she mumbles, “our final adventure.”

In my head I make funeral plans – the hospitality will be such that the guests will forget they have buried me.

I’ll go totally bald if they bomb Iran.

“It’s not stress,” says Dr Fleming.

But I am sure it is. What can I do to stop the war — dress up as Batman, strap myself to the gates of Buckingham Palace? No. Don’t want to be machine-gunned for peace dressed up as an American super-hero.

The doctor wants tests. It’s cancer of the blood, no doubt. 

“Could it be diabetes?” I say to cheer myself up. 

“We can test you for that,” she says. Sure. She’ll test me for nut allergy if I ask her to. But I know what’s wrong, why a bald patch would follow a map. I run my finger against it. I feel Baluchistan to the east and Azarbaijan to the north. My country is intact. It’s on my neck. No one can attack it. If it gets bombed my head will go with it. And if Britain joins in, it will split.

My friend Laura’s two-year-old daughter, Claudia, lost four fingers the other day. She was playing with a few other children in the garden, and one of the boys shut a door on her fingers and they came off. Laura would not wish that on anyone else’s child in a million years. But it’s safe to assume that the fact that it was her child made it particularly painful for her.

It’s the same with countries. I couldn’t have been more against the attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan, but they were not mapped on my skull.

Claudia’s fingers were sewn back on. Laura e-mailed me a picture of her face. It’s the cutest, roundest little face. She looks rudely interrupted. “I’ll carry on with my childhood if that’s alright” her eyes seem to say. Hold on. She’s lost four fingers, I’ve lost some hair. Perhaps I should learn from this two-year-old.

“It’s probably alopecia,” Dr Fleming says. Is this when baldness occurs in the shape of somewhere that might be bombed. I leave the medic and on the way home, there are, as usual, the free papers strewn all over the Tube. “Iranians seize Royal Marines,” screams one headline. I check my head to make sure I have dutifully begun to lose hair in the shape of the British Isles. Not quite, but I can definitely feel the M25.

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March 23, 2007 at 6:54 pm (blog)

Watching the film 300 will leave most men older than 30, “Persian” or not, feeling rather paunchy. A phalanx of Spartans composed of a bunch Abercrombie & Fitch models, takes on the brutal “Persians” — a group with a lower life expectancy than the Iraqi police — with little more than steely will and impressive six-packs. The so-called Persians are in contrast, a porky horde, and useless fighters. So flimsy is their archery, that the Spartans raise their shields to fend off a sky full of arrows like Englishmen in bowler hats holding brolleys against the rain.

Now, of course, you don’t have to be a historian to know that back in the day, the last things the Spartans, being spartan, had was CGI graphics to tone themselves with (although some it is said did have PlayStation II). But this is Hollywood make-believe at its best. Or racist worst. The Lord Of The Rings meets King Kong‘s Skull Island. I mean, something can be so outrageously racist it merits a dedicated Oscar category. It can be a blacked-up statuette. In fact, throw in a Borat Part II, Midnight Express The Return and The Passion of Christ Resurrected and we can have a racist film festival called The Sambos. Director Zack Snyder would surely feel at home. His film’s hero, Leonidas, the Belgian chocolate-maker, dies in a Crucifixion-inspired pose, leaving the cinema-goers to mourn, apart from anything else, those hard-earned abs and pecs. The message is clear: “The brutal, dark, harem-dwelling Orientals killed Our Boys. Let’s bomb the coons.” To give credit where it’s due, however, the film has accomplished something remarkable. It has managed to unite Iranians living in the West — not since the publication of Not Without My Daughter in 1988 has a representation of Iranians been so roundly condemned. Not without reason.

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Aersol issues

March 15, 2007 at 11:39 am (Espresso, soulbeantransport)

This morning I applied an oil spray to my bicycle chain. Then I noticed that the can in fact contained rain-repellent for leather shoes. Fortunately my deodorant is a different colour – and in the bathroom.

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Two men in a pub

March 12, 2007 at 3:22 pm (Double espresso, UK, Voices)

BOB: Where are you from?
MAK: Battersea.
BOB: I’ve never seen you there and I live there.
MAK: It’s actually Clapham, not far.
BOB: My uncle lived in Clapham. He would have said something.
MAK: Okay. I grew up in Enfield.
BOB: Enfield? Hmm. My brother-in-law, he lived there.
MAK: Okay not Enfield, not Clapham. Richmond! That’s where I’m from – by the river.
BOB: Nah. You’re having me on. Went to school with a Richmond bloke.
MAK: “He would have said something.”
BOB: You from London?
MAK: Where does it sound like?
BOB: I’ve never seen you once on a bus, or the tube.
MAK: Well, here we are, pleased to meet you – Makan.
BOB: Pleased to meet you Mak — Bob. Tell me, not a Harrow boy are ya?
MAK: No. More of a barrow boy, me.
BOB: Only um, I don’t know anyone who lives there.
MAK: You don’t? Harrow it is then! Hold it, no. Me granddad was from Harrow.
MAK: Never mind. Anywhere else you haven’t been to? Sod it, I tell you what. I’m from Iran. That’s where I am from. Persia.
BOB: Purrrrrrsia, eh? Like the floating, grinning cat?
MAK: No that’s Cheshire.
BOB: My brother used to work there in the seventies.
MAK: What Cheshire?
BOB: No, Persia.
MAK: Well, obviously I can’t be from there then.
BOB: Eh?
MAK: He would have informed you, would he not?
BOB: You’re right, he would.
MAK: What was he doing in Iran, your brother?
BOB: He was training the Savak.
MAK: The Shah’s secret police? You are having a laugh!
BOB: He was. SAS. Training the Iranians.
MAK: To do what?
BOB: Bake biscuits.
MAK: Eh?
BOB: And cakes, Danish, pain au chocolate – the lot.
MAK: The British coached Iran’s Stasi to make cookies?
BOB: Yeah, well.
MAK: It’s not what you’d expect is it? I would have thought extracting confessions, forklift driving – not home economics.
BOB: It wasn’t all about violence. It was about cookery too. Reverie. Crockery.
MAK: Mockery. That’s probably where the expression “Take the biscuit comes from.”
BOB: Eh?
MAK: Brits teaching us how to cook the damn things.
BOB: Possibly. Look, my brother wasn’t in surveillance. It was more counter-surveillance.
MAK: What’s the difference?
BOB: Surveillance, you’re watching someone – or someone’s watching you. Counter-surveillance, you draw the curtains.
MAK: They needed the Brits to tell them that?
BOB: Well, a lot of people in your country had blinds. Not everyone had curtains. Lucky to have had him, you lot. Still, it’s got to be said. He never saw you.
MAK: Yeah, well, if truth be told, I was actually born in Baku in Azerbaijan. Not Iran.
BOB: Azerbaijan?
MAK: Don’t tell me someone – your niece, grandfather, uncle, your great-granny –
BOB: – No. No-no. Cousin. She got married in Azerbaijan.
MAK: I’m running out of land mass. Oh dear. Just out of interest how about Rio? De Janeiro.
BOB: Nephew, Stan.
MAK: Johannesburg?
BOB: Stepsister.
MAK: Reykjavik.
BOB: Aunt.
MAK: (LOSING PATIENCE) Tokyo. Adelaide. Prague. Lima. Tell me something, where are you from?
BOB: Hanwell.
MAK: Hanwell? Charlie Chaplin went to school there.
BOB: He did, you’re right.
MAK: Never said he saw you.

From February 2006

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Ali – diary of a UK asylum speaker

March 6, 2007 at 7:48 pm (Double espresso, Voices)

14 February 2007
I drop on my bed with my work clothes. Vowed never to do that, here I am, soaked in grease and kebabs. The blacks give us a hard time downstairs, I thought they were good people but they are arrogant and rude. In Iran we learned blacks are an oppressed people, that the Europeans treated them badly. Morteza says “It’s nothing to do with skin colour, it’s poverty, even if you went to a white area it would be the same – in fact you would be black.” I’m tired of them ordering me about and sucking their teeth and counting on the fact that I’m afraid of them because they’re black. I’m not. If I hesitate in responding it’s because my English is not good, in fact it’s terrible. Three months, and all I’ve learned to say “Chilli sauce salad?” “Everything salad?” So I am not as confident, also I am tired, I am on my feet 4pm to 6am and they pay me fifty pounds. Mr Majidi is a decent guy. He doesn’t pay me much but at least he doesn’t talk to us as if we are shit. That is the customer’s job. This boy is spending two pounds on a burger – two pounds – and he watches over me intently as I put the burger sauce on. If I put a little bit too much or too little he’ll talk to me like I’m dirt. If I say anything, he’ll take the burger and throw it in my face or who knows, shoot me. They shoot each other here, the blacks, I don’t know why they shoot each other, but they do. Not that they should be shooting anyone else. I’m tired of them. It’s poverty isn’t it – “We’re all black in this country,” Morteza says. What country? England to me is a greasy kebab shop where I break my back five nights a week.

17 February
Woke up late – missed sunlight. I hate it when that happens. Went to work on no sunlight. The food they feed us here is shit. Have to learn English. Three months now. All I do is work. Phoned mum. They’re all good, dad’s good. Miss them. When will I see them next? Cannot even bear to think about my dear little sister, Sara. She’ll be a bit bigger now, not a great deal, but children don’t wait. Adults, on the other hand, have to be patient. Next week I will find out if my asylum application is accepted, it probably won’t be but I’m hopeful. Most of the boys I work with have failed and are working illegally. None of us knows why they don’t let us work, why we can’t learn the language, they won’t let us. “Their most important rule is to stop us from learning English,” says Morteza. “Language is a weapon”. So, we come here to work. Afghans come to Iran for God’s sake. How screwed must they be. You can tell the Poles from a mile off, they try too hard to pass for English. They’re black too, in away. English people don’t crack open cans of Polish beer in the street. I need a haircut. Then maybe I can think about getting a girlfriend – who’d want to go out with Mr “Chicken or lamb shish”? One of my teeth, I think, is rotting. I’ll give it a few days and hope it disappears. The pain, that is, not the tooth. There’s a home dentistry kit in the local chemist. It’s got mirrors, dental picks, the works. Who needs a medical qualification? This country is amazing, this little corner of it anyway.

19 February
Spent five pounds on a Travelcard to get me to an Iranian restaurant near Oxford Street. It was a posh place. They said I need a work permit, the woman apologised for not having mentioned it on the phone. I was angry about the blacks yesterday. Now I’m angry about these Iranians who wasted my travel money. They can drop dead for all I care. But they were nice. They said I’d get the job if I get a permit. But why would I want to work there if I’m allowed to? I’d go to college and get a degree. I’d work there, anywhere but this shit-hole.

21 February

Two policemen came into the shop tonight. I was scared shitless. But the other guys were fine. I thought they’d ask for our papers but all they did was ask for a kebab. One of them was black and the other was Indian. You see, there you are, give someone a uniform and a pay cheque and they’re not going to use a threatening tone for burger sauce. They thought I’m a Turk. I let them think that – we’re about to be bombed. Too wrecked to think about the war. They won’t attack us. Of course they will. I don’t know. Twenty-two. I feel sixty two. I’m off to bed.

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