Comrade Obama? Nah.

November 8, 2008 at 4:30 pm (Double espresso)

The word socialist has been bandied about more in the past few weeks than it has since the early 1990s. John McCain was asked whether nationalising banks was not tantamount to socialism – remarkable, a mainstream network airing the s-word in an interview with a US presidential candidate. In Britain the word socialism is regarded as a terminal virus the Labour party sneezed out in 1994 when the then opposition leader Tony Blair ditched Clause 4 — along with its commitment to “the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. After Labour came to power in 1997, its use was phased out.

Now that capitalists themselves are forced to accept that a system that rewards complete bastards, for being complete bastards, is doomed, “redistribution of wealth” and “socialism” are out of their cages. Quite what they mean is a different matter. In the run-up to the US election, socialism had turned into a euphemism for black. “I’m not voting for Obama because he’s a socialist” had less to do with any pledge he had made, to create a system of free health care for all at point of use – or lifting the trade embargo on Cuba – and more to do with his ethnicity. Asked to define socialism, one caller to a New York public radio phone-in rambled incoherently before saying: “Marx! It’s about Karl Marx.”

Yet with Obama’s victory, no-one is asking what is this “socialist” going to do. It’s suddenly “Black! Black! Black! Black! African-American! African-American! African-American”. The thing is Obama can as fairly be said to be white as he is black – he is, after all, mixed race. But we live in a world that still considers white to be something pure that can be tainted by the black. Under apartheid, mixed-race South Africans were called “coloureds”, black painted on to white, not the other way around. So in the US, Colin Powell is regarded as a black man – which really beggars belief.

In one of the first signs that the world is changing in terms of racial politics, demonstrators took to the streets in Rome yesterday after Silvio Berlusconi referred to Obama as “sun-tanned”. The protestors were keen to show the world they are not retarded even if their prime minister is. And perhaps, unlike Berlusconi, they knew that a hundred years ago, immigrants to the US from Italy suffered similar prejudice at the hands of their Anglo-Saxon hosts.

One day, our skin-hue obsessed world will allow the mixed-race person to choose whether he, or she, is black or white. For now, though, we can bask in the honeymoon the mere complexion of this capitalist president-elect affords us in the hope that, one day, the US will elect a leader who is young, gifted and Red.

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Clapham days: a memory

January 7, 2008 at 1:44 pm (blog, Double espresso)

We had rats for two months, but we were in denial. We could hear them, but we’d convince ourselves it was something different, like plumbing. Paul, my flatmate, put these pellets everywhere. They were supposed to kill the rats. What he didn’t know was that rats don’t have their own corpse-removal unit. If one dies they leave it there. That’s what happened.

One day our friend Rich came around and pointed to the conference of flies above the kitchen sink. With no further ado, I turn on the vacuum cleaner to suck up the flies up mid-air.

“There’s a dead animal here,” said Rich.

Don’t be silly, we said.

“Well what do you think that smell is?”

“Smell?”

Paul and I were in denial.

Rich prised open this board under a sink. Sure enough, there was dead rat there, which because Paul owned the property I thought it best he cleaned up. We’d tried everything – a sonic device that plugged into a wall socket. It made a noise only rodents can hear. Who ever put it together was having a laugh, they did something so it attract rats rather than repel them. Rodents from all over the neighbourhood made their way to the illegal rat-rave in our home.

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Soap opera

October 15, 2007 at 11:55 pm (Double espresso)

I received a call from my therapist today. “I need to talk,” he said.

“You need to talk to me? What about.”

“One of my clients.”

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll charge.”

“How much?” he said.

“What you charge me.”

“Okay,” he said, “Why don’t we do an exchange.”

“No,” I said. “Once you pay me, our relationship will be altered.”

“I want two minutes of your time,” he pleaded.

“Well go on,” I said.

“My rabbit Alberto died.”

“That’s it?”

“Yes.”

“Why choose me to tell that too.”

“I thought you’d understand.”

“That your rodent died?”

“Yes.”

“My condolences,” I said.

“Thanks.”

Then he said nothing.

“That’s it?”

“No,” he replied.

“There’s more?”

“Yes.”

“So,” I said. “Tell me.”

“That’ll cost you money,” he said.

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The phone with no ring

April 11, 2007 at 9:54 am (Anecdotal, blog, Double espresso)

bergerjohn.jpg

Yesterday I went to the basement of Carphone Warehouse in London’s Oxford Street, a first-aid centre for mobile telephones. The older gentleman in front of me looked familiar. I asked if he was a writer. “Yes,” he said. It was, as I had suspected, the novelist and essayist John Berger. I was chuffed. Even great writers line up to get their phones fixed. He asked what was wrong with mine. It has a torch that works, I said, but doesn’t ring. (Like a car that has spell-check but no wheels.)

I told him I met Salman Rushdie a few months back. He was in a pub with his partner Padma Lakshmi. I patted him on the shoulder and said, “I’m Iranian and on behalf of my country I apologise”. Rushdie laughed but gave me a look of unease as if I might shout “Blasphemous swine!” and stab him. That was my cue to leave but I asked if he would endorse the book I have written. He said he might and that I should send it to his publisher. I haven’t yet. Written it, that is.

“Why don’t you ditch Salman for me,” I wanted to tell Padma, who is beautiful and my age. “I’m not quite as distinguished yet but I am rather hip.” Imagine prising Rushdie’s wife off him. In what would be a poetic role-reversal, he would issue a fatwa on an Iranian.

John — we were on first name terms now — asked if I did any writing. I told him, sir, if you write, I scribble with a blunt pencil. I didn’t actually but I wish I had. Bugger. His wife appeared. I forget her name, maybe Bernadette. I asked how things were in Switzerland — John was being served now. “We live in France,” she said. “Not Switzerland.” She told me that a Berger season is running in London and that’s why they were here. She quizzed me about why my family had left Iran, after which they left the shop. I refrained from insisting on coffee lest I frighten them. They both seemed surprised someone had recognised John in Carphone Warehouse.

At the repair desk the image of a mobile phone with hands and feet, its head bandaged, white coat on another — the doctor treating it — decorated a glass panel behind which was the fix-it lab, with a green hospital cross on the door. I was glad to have told John that I think the cell phone industry should be nationalised, with people’s phones, dull as East German Trabants, issued free-of-charge to single mothers among others. No cute ring tones and no cameras, I said — like mine. His wife smiled. Although I admitted, “If I did have a camera I could take a picture now with Mr Berger”. Consumerism has its merits, after all.

I checked my phone in at the counter, oddly humanised in cartoon form, with arms and legs, in a mass communication culture that dehumanises the poor, especially if they sit on oil, so that they can be colonised and their limbs blown off. Fortunately the couple escaped this lecture. That’s what you do when you meet big writers, you want to impress them with your ideas. Berger was one of few whose writing influenced me as a student, partly because his seminal book Ways of Seeing had bold type and pictures, perfect for when you’re stoned.

The cell-phone doctor, wearing puppy stubble, name badge, shirt and tie, examined my Nokia so thoroughly it belied a suspicion that I have no friends who might call.

(“Can’t fix your social life here mate, there’s a bar next-door.”)

“That man you just served”, I told him, “he’s a great writer.” He looked at me, nodded and pressed a button.
First published on Iranian.com in April 2005. Off to US.

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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 Iranian.com 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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Breakfast

February 22, 2007 at 11:53 am (Double espresso, The office)

22 February 2007. 11:49am. Just has a bacon sandwich – prepared by myself in the FT canteen. Cinnamon and raisin bagel, stuffed with rashers. There is something bacon does in the morning. And one egg. Dear me. £1.70. Now for some work. Left phone at home. Will cycle to pick it up at lunchtime. The US may be about to bomb my country of birth, eating is one way to deal with it. Although this was a valid meal, not an emotional outburst.

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Still 20 February 2007

February 20, 2007 at 9:25 am (blog, Double espresso)

It’s still 2007. And 08.15am. Perhaps I should do a how’s your new year going check-up on people. It’s not good enough to wish everyone you meet HAPPY NEW YEAR throughout January and then not care for the rest of the HAPPY NEW YEAR! Mine’s going OK. My apartment could be much tidier*. And I’m gonna phone British Telecom to demand a lower broadband tariff or disconnection. (£33 a month!). My tea is brewing. I have a bag of meat that I defrosted (minced, really lovely lamb). It has bled in my fridge. Not a sight I welcome in th morning. My poor bicycle is attached to railings near the Ritz hotel in Piccadilly. It will have suffered drizzle throug the night. Unless it got stolen. Basically, I left it out in the cold. Will go to collect this evening and take bus to office. Had better drink tea while tuning in to a country station on i-Tunes. I like country music.

*or a complete wreck. The fridge is bleeding for Chrissake.

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20 February 2007

February 20, 2007 at 4:14 am (Double espresso)

It’s 2.45am. Just got back from five bars. Ate too much. But didn’t drink. Met an incredibly attractive woman. An old man, who probably spends his afternoons asleep in the House of Lords, was hovering around her. He touched her bum. She said something to him. He went off. “What happened there?” I asked.

“He touched my bum.”

Her name was Virginie. She spoke English well, with a French accent.

“He thinks I am a toy,” she added. I took a sip of my coke.

“If I am a toy,” she said, “I am an expensive toy.”

Ah.

“How can you put a price on it? Surely, there is no price.”
I can’t remember her reply, but by now we had established a rapport. Is she happy?

“I would like to live Angelina Jolie’s life,” she said. “If Angelina Jolie is not happy she should see a psychologist.”

Virginie waved, flirtily to two men wearing jumpers on shirts. Ralph Lauren.

“You do your thing,” I said. Why does she do what she does?

“Comfort,” she said. “I can fly business class to Brazil.”

“What’s wrong with economy.”

“Economy more than three hours? Not good.”

My two friends, one of whom had bought her champagne, were sitting away from us. Let’s fast forward to them, and we may come back to Virginie another time. In fact, fast forward further to Maroush, the Lebanese place in Knightsbridge. We eat humus, grilled chicken, aubergine stew. The second meal in one night, six hours apart though. Seven. No, six. Not bad. We are solving the world’s problems, the three of us. Then a man joins in with our conversation. He is of Indian extraction and advises the Labour party on “Muslim issues”. He was pragmatic, a charmer, too smooth to be committed to behind-the-scenes. Sure enough, Asif, we’ll call him, had stood for election in 2001 and failed to win a seat. Anyway, he kept name-dropping Gordon Brown and Tony Blair – “(I’ve met them)” – but he smiled and was affable. He thought detention centres for illegal immigrants “a good idea” and was rather rightwing over immigration. “The whole world can’t come here.” (The whole world doesn’t want to). I am too tired to continue. This is a blog and if you’re interested, 3.20am.

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15 February 2007

February 15, 2007 at 1:29 pm (Double espresso)

Today, aged 35, I passed my driving test in South Norwood in London. It was a bright spring morning, depressing given it is winter, but happy because another road user has just been unleashed to pollute the environment. Curiously, capitalism’s drive for profit is such that the fact there will be no world left to make profit in is escaping its attention: imposing a limit on US carbon emissions is still something we Europeans are too polite to demand. A case of the elephant in the living room, taking a shit but we’re to scared to speak out.

Still, I can’t but be happy today for this small accomplishment. Now I can visit California and drive. And at last, I can go to Los Angeles which I vowed never to return to without my licence. I can become a bus driver, a mini-cab driver and probably operate a horse and cart. Imagine, though, flying to the States with the sole intention of driving when you get there. It would be greener to stay put and set fire to a library.

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