Rebel with a pause

December 26, 2008 at 2:51 am (1)

“How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal?”

News of playwright Harold Pinter’s death arrived in primetime, Christmas – a religious date, in Britain, for watching telly. You couldn’t escape the news and the news couldn’t escape reporting on Pinter’s final years and his opposition to the war in Iraq, as well as his monumental literary achievements. His stance on the war demanded to be featured in the briefest of TV obituaries. Of course, in the BBC News bulletin I caught, there was no mention of the fact that, in accepting his Nobel prize for literature in 2005, he had called for Tony Blair to be prosecuted for war crimes. That would have been too much given the mince pies, turkey, pigs in blanket and booze viewers will have been digesting – going after Blair would, after all, mean hauling key government figures into the dock, too, such as justice minister Jack Straw or even prime minister Gordon Brown and we need him to steer us out of the economic downturn.

Pinter’s death pushed Her Majesty into being the news programme’s second item. In her speech, she had wasted no time in reminding us that troops in Santa hats are still risking their lives for us in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In his video address to the Nobel prize people three years ago he said: “The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law.

“The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

“We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it ‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East’.

“How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice.”

While tributes have poured in for Pinter, the ultimate tribute to him will not be paid as the unrepentant duo remains outside the grasp of justice.

In 2003 I went to a Stop the War Coalition meeting in London where I heard the great man speak. In the middle of his speech he was heckled – it was a friendly heckle, in support of what Mr Pinter had been saying but clearly an unwelcome interruption. Mr Pinter responded with a pondering silence before resuming his sentence. “It’s a Pinter pause!” I nearly shouted. Perhaps that’s all his passing is.

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Life is Beautiful

December 26, 2008 at 2:47 am (1)

Life is beautiful
Feliss Nabbidad!” yells dad. “Happy birthday Jesus!” – it’s always a bad idea to stay at your parents’ on Christmas Eve. Cheery Mexican brass blares from the stereo.

“What’s that noise dad?”

“Happy Christmas!” he shouts. “No sleigh balls in Mexico Christmas. I hate sleigh balls.”

“Sleigh bells, baba. Not balls.”

“¡Próspero año nuebbo!”

“It’s 9am!” I shout.

“Six hours to Queen’s speech.”

I ask for one of his blood pressure tablets and stick my head in a pillow.

“These pills are great dad, you should try them some time.”

“I prefer cigarettes,” he says. “Honestly, you’re an old man. You should be up celebrating the birth of Christmas.”

“It’s Christ, dad. Christmas is a cake.”

Mother is at my sister’s. They will be having turkey with the rest of the family while dad and I are going to eat lamb kebabs. There was no row but it does feel like we’re a splinter group dedicated to red meat.

Half an hour later I’m in the kitchen putting on a brew. Dad is grating onion.

“Do me a favour and pass the meat from the fridge,” he says.

All I find in there is a half-eaten slice of cheese and a cabbage.

“What’s the matter?”

“There is no meat in here.”

“How can that be?” says dad, touching the interior of the fridge as if the 4lb bag of minced shoulder – ground twice – we bought yesterday from a kosher butcher might actually be there but we can’t see it.

“It must be in the car,” says dad.

I check the glove compartment, under the seats and the bonnet but no meat.

“Baba jan, I don’t know how to break this to you but there is no meat in the car.”

“What about your car?”

“We went to the butcher’s in your car.”

Dad opens a bottle of red wine and pours me glass – I’ve forgotten all about my tea. It’s his way of making me feel better about the elephant in the living room – the fact that it was me who last had the meat.


We had never been to M Lipowicz, the kosher butcher’s, before. The two old men who run it were shocked when the two of us we went in – two unshaven, unkempt Arabs or Pakistanis. Dad ordered some meat. It took fifteen minutes to prepare so we went to the Indian restaurant next-door for a quick curry and returned two hours later.

“Discount?” said one of the old men, stroking his beard.

“Yes,” said dad. “You charge a little more for your meat being kosher, sir, no?”

“Yes,” said the man.

“Well, I am Muslim – what use is kosher to me? You can discount the kosher!”




As this went on I was cowering behind a pyramid of Hebrew-lettered tins of pickled cucumbers where, reduced to infantile embarrassment by dad’s haggling, I left the meat.


“I have an idea,” says dad. He sticks a bag of walnuts, a gift from Iran, in the grinder in an effort to rustle up vegetable kebabs. An hour later the kitchen looks like a war zone, with flour everywhere and his test kebab in pieces. He looks distraught. I pat him on the back.

Dad calls M Lipowicz after fishing for their number online but no reply. He does a search for “Meat+Christmasday+west London+emergency” but nothing.

We watch Mary Poppins and fall asleep on the sofa. I wake up two hours later, greeted by a glass of freshly made tea. With the Queen’s speech an hour away we decide to swallow our pride and drive to my sister’s house. The whole family is surprised to see us and we are greeted like heroes.

“Did you bring your meat?” says my sister.

“No, we thought that would be silly,” I say.

“So silly,” dad pipes up, “we left it at the butcher’s.”

We end up eating turkey and watching the Queen on TV with the volume turned down. Dad nudges me and says: “Perhaps the English know something when they eat a dumb vegetable like turkey on such a special day. Meat would only distract us from the wonderful time we are having with the family.”

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