…and his jeans are belted up below his arse. His fucking shreddies is on display. I says to him, ‘Oye mate, your trousers is falling down,’ and the sobriety of the carriage shatters. I soak up looks from all them suits, shuffling uncomfortably. Meanwhile our fashionista glares at us, says something under his breath. Patois, like. I return the stare with a smile, unblinking, daring him to raise the stakes…but he ain’t game. He turns his back and looks long into the wasteland zooming past, like he’s desperate to step outside of his world; remove the yoke yanking him up the line.
I let my Bro be. Despite his lack of skills with a belt, I have more in common with Gangster here than all these fucking suits. Take Exhibit A, standing to my side: headphones on, wireless, a pilot light blinking like the thing is synched with air-traffic control. His mug is locked onto his phone as he catches up on some EPL highlights. The English Premier League – where your ‘pie & a pint’ crowd is slowly being displaced by those munching carrot batons.
On our way to the footy last Saturday, me and Terry come to a disturbing conclusion – we are under existential threat. It certainly put the six-pointer into perspective… Football for us, as kids, wasn’t some choice – it was tradition: the sporting life for the common man. Down where me and Terry go, Non-League and Conference, all that’s still there, but the top of the English game..? It’s like them toffs on the Titanic, gorging themselves on oysters and pâté de fois gras, whilst that iceberg waited patient in the dark.
Our Darren, my son, he supports Chelsea. He don’t play the game, never been to Stamford Bridge, but… This month he’s into Call of Duty Black Ops, WKD Blue, that weirdo off the X Factor. And Chelsea. And he dresses like a poof – can I say that? Cause it’s all lifestyle choices now: tea/coffee, skimmed/semi-skimmed, straight/gay. But don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to stone ‘em like some mad Muslim, but I’m keeping them at arm’s length. Even if my Darren turns out like that.
The Tube pulls in at the next stop and my can’t-even-wear-a-belt Bruv gets off, without so much as a backwards glance. And the space he vacates is taken by…a whole effing delegation from the United Nations. One of them ninja women powers through to the centre of the fray, armed with a double buggy. Me and the Suits are forced backwards, down into the aisles as one of Ninja Lady’s pups starts to bawl.
On the subject of mad Muslims. Sorry, Muslims. Actually, are the mad lot a special sub-category, or are all Muslims, by definition, mad? Ooch…dum de dum… Though I don’t answer every damn shrill from the papers, mind. Them Pakis down Wootten Bassett, calling them boys coming home in coffins, ‘murderers’ – I’m sorry, but half-a-dozen ragheads does not mean Wootten Bassett now flies the black flag of the Caliphate. But maybe, just maybe, there’s a silent army behind those six: in tenements from Brick Lane to Small Heath, living off the fat of the land, calling over Great Uncle Omar to get his hip-op done gratis and, all the while, wishing us ill. And as for those women like Ninja Lady here, guarding their adornments from unwanted gazes… Do me a favour, Love. Most of ‘em wouldn’t merit a glance if they was walking the streets in bikinis.
So, are us Brits tolerant? Or is intolerance the new tolerance? Well, let’s just say…it’s complicated. But go on, flay us in the Press, the liberal meeja. Though don’t forget: the streets of this land, this Pagan land – they’re ours. And we ain’t ever danced to another’s tune. Our Lords and Masters, they know the deal – we’re the tail wagging their dog. Only one thing credits them – they know how to put on a show. Like the London Olympics and that opening ceremony. Utter drivel, all that mincing around symbolism of a Green and Pleasant Land, but rousing all the same. Cause first and foremost, they’re salesmen, and always have been. Even when there was rabid dogs eating corpses in the streets, it mattered not so long as Britannia Ruled the Waves, and some poor Chipmunk was having to rote learn ‘God Save the King’. It’s why every muppet from Morocco to Pakmenistan has wet dreams about Blighty. It don’t matter that the 1% who make it through end up squatting in Southall, learning how to swear in Punjabi. For them, that’s like afternoon tea at Henley.
‘We’re just being held at a red signal’, says our driver. Again. ‘Should be on the move shortly.’ And this is the ‘Fast’ one. On this line, they run three services: Fast, Semi-Fast and All Stations, which in the real world translates into Slow, Stops at every Cattle Shed, and Best Work from Home. And to round-off everyone’s misery, Ninja Lady’s second pup joins the first in bawling.
When I was a boy, public transport was shit but at least everyone knew it: the poor sod waiting in vain at some vandalised shelter, the driver on sick leave cause he’d had a filling done, the Fat Controller, the Government – we all agreed – it was utter bollocks. Today it’s no different, only them private companies running the show are now illusionists. Cause the Tube, trains and buses is running a timetabled service, Ladies and Gentlemen. Now the cynic might ask, how can you run a timetable on the roads? Like everyone else, you’re at the mercy of the traffic. But this is where the genius comes in: cause if it’s five minutes from A to B on a good day, seven on average and nine on a bad day, they’ll plan on eleven minutes. But the pièce de résistance is them real-time information boards. ‘Perfect’, you might think – ‘now I know the next 74 to West Brompton is due in four minutes!’ Only them boys down HQ have taken the philosophers’ approach to that concept we call ‘time’. Which means those four minutes might turn out to be five or six or seven or eight. Who knows? Certainly not a dumbo like me, without even a basic grasp of quantum physics. And there you have it – a 1970s style service, given that Olympics makeover.
Style over substance, wheat and chaff, shit and Shinola. This country is changing too fast. And I sense trouble ahead.
About the Contributor
Tamim is a short story writer, novelist and reviewer. His reviews have appeared in Open Pen, Bookmunch, Minor Literature[s], Wasafiri, Critical Muslim and 3A:M Magazine. His novel, Dear Infidel (Hansib, 2014), was nominated for the People’s Book Prize. He has recently completed a short story collection.
The Solitude of Thomas Cave - Georgina Harding
More from Issue Ten:
- Tracks of Life and Death by Liz Kohn
- A short course of treatment by Tim Love
- Heating disorder by Myriam Frey
- Heirlooms by Rosie Garland
- Mourning by Katherine McMahon
- The Ghost of my Mother is waiting for me in Arrivals by Claire Collison
- Pakistan Zindabad, from Abroad by Hana Riaz
- Adopt a vortex by Han Smith
- Sea Sickness by Eloise Unerman
- British Street Music by Tamim Sadikali
- Pomegranate by Caroline Gonda