West London afternoon

January 9, 2008 at 4:09 pm (blog)

1.30pm I’m in Hanger Hill park in Ealing. A cyclist brushes past an old couple. They huff and puff. He stops and confronts them, American accent. ‘In England you can’t cycle in parks’ they say. ‘That’s just racialist,’ he says. (Though he’s white.) They exchange words. Then as he’s about to make off, he says: ‘You’re lucky you’re not my age or i’d beat the shit out of you.’
At this point I step in and say: ‘You’re out of order mate, they’re right, you don’t cycle in parks.’ He looks surprised and gets off his bike — ‘You ARE my age’ — and offers me out. Ten years ago, twenty years ago, I would have lunged at him, slipped in the mud, gone home with a black eye and bloody nose (back then the rule was ‘go for the balls’, but assessing him today it would be ‘smash the iPod’). Instead, I was calm and said: ‘I have no problem with you,’ and took a step back. The couple and I then walked on together. ‘We’re so sorry,’ they said. ‘That vocabulary.’
‘It’s not your fault,’ I said. ‘He’s clearly disturbed.’
Then he cycled past us hurling a few Fs. I chased after him out of the park. ‘Pick on a couple of old people son.’
‘Fuck off paki,’ he said.
‘You’re an unhappy wreck mate,’ — not quite as effective as paki — ‘pick on a couple of old people.’ I made sure to smile, which i thought was nice, but I was hit.
‘Terrorist,’ he said. ‘Terrorist-paki.’
‘Kiss my arse you prick.’
‘Around the corner,’ he said. ‘You come here mate,’ I said — the middle of a street is the safest place for a fight — cars will eventually arrive to break it up.
He cycled off — ‘Terrorist, paki…’ (the US foreign policy mantra). I went to my car, intent on surprising him and running him over. Then I noticed the couple.
‘Are you alright’ they said. ‘I’m fine,’ I said. ‘Best not to think about him and let him spoil your day.’ Easier said than done though.

The last time someone called me paki it was also in Ealing, where i grew up, twenty years ago — another cyclist. It was night, I got angry, chased him a good few hundred metres. This time, however, i was more riled. If I’m gonna suffer racism, it should come from an English person, not a bloody foreigner.

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