You Looking For Trouble?
She asked me if I was looking for trouble. I was not looking for trouble but I did point out that it was my turn to be served. She asked, did it do me good to have everything my way. I said probably. She said who did I think I was. I said I was so-and-so and lived in Thailand not in the UK. She stared. I said it didn’t do me too much harm to get served in turn, and that at 66 I didn’t need any more testing by adversity to stimulate character-growth. We kind of chatted if veiled aggression is chat, and she said oh, then said I I was glad I lived in Thailand and not in the U of K – what with so many upright, uptight, aggressive people. They’re not aggressive there? she countered, nodding her head in the direction of Siam. Yes, they are, I said, but not like here.
I drank my pint of special-offer, Monday Guinness (2 pounds 39 p.) and got out. Out, it was chilly, about 16 degrees Celsius with a grey sky but no rain. There were groups of people demonstrating about bad wages and poor working conditions. There were guys demonstrating against the HSBC, telling me the bank supports businesses that buy bulldozers which the Israelis use to knock down Palestinian homes. There were guys lying against buildings, sporting lovely dogs, hats that needed filling with coin. In the walk-arcade there were musicians abusking and in one betting-shop I heard the employee telling a disgruntled punter that if he, the punter, wanted to have a go, he, the employee, finished at 10 p.m. Sort of : “Meet me to beat me up if you can at twenty-two hundred hours.” Yes, there’s quite a lot of uptightness, aggression, cold, drizzle, fizzle, and more.
Under the arches in Sheffield lie the druggies and the maladjusted, asking for coin. In the pubs sit the druggies and the maladjusted, sipping their booze. Are they recalling their great English novelist, Charles Dickens, who painted them, these warped Englanders, as caricatures, larger-than-life derelicts of the British Empire? Of course, they’re not. Caricatures, characters, and worse, they’re chewing the cud of their Englishness in their local and feeling hard-done-by. Not difficult to see why when you listen to the B.B.C., or Theresa May, or learn that the Duchess is suffering from extreme morning sickness because of a third royalty on the way. Only the other night, a Saturday, the bouncers told me and my son to get inside to drink. After ten p.m. drinking on the streets in Sheffield on a Saturday night is considered provocative, even dangerous. Son wanted a ciggy with beer. Can’t. We moved to a different pub. Groups of seven men drinking. Ladies dancing and shrieking. Laughter. Fall-over. Elbow-jog. Decibelling music. Son and I went into the beer garden. He wanted a ciggy with his beer. Bouncer : Can’t. It’s after ten. The beer garden unfortunately leant against a thoroughfare. Too dangerous. Too close for comfort. Now, now, don’t be provocative, drinking your beer, smoking a forbidden-inside ciggy outside near a public thoroughfare. Just STOP!
Into the local coop, buying apple pie. Car on a yellow line. Can’t park there, mutters a passerby. What’s it to you, mate? Out in three minutes flat. Two attendants let me go with a warning. Son’s car. Italian number plate. I thank them for letting me go in Italian. Two strides away was a sign. They protect you from everything except rules. Must / must not / must / must not. CCTV on the CCTV.
Swimming happily in two. A third joins in, a wiry lady, and we need to change our pattern of swimming to accommodate the third but a Chinese doesn’t. The lady’s relative hops around, runs up, pointing to a sign, and gestures. Tell him! I tell the guy. Swim in a loop. I’m swimming in a loop. He isn’t. Look! Look! We swim in a loop. I get out. There’s the guy with his swimming goggles on, sitting in the jacuzzi. Hello, I say. No answer, but he stares at me through his goggles like tough guys stare at you through their glazed, designer sunglasses. You all right? He nods. Some people don’t swim in a loop. He nods. Funny, I say, because in England most people, even Chinese people, follow the rules, love the rules. Where you from? Germany. Oh, so you love rules, too! I laugh. He looks. Lifts the goggles. Nods. I don’t live in England, I tell him. I don’t like England. Very expensive, he says. Can’t do anything. Too expensive. I nod. He lowers designer swimming-goggles. Ends conversation.
I get out into the 16 degree-Celsius air. The chill is unfriendly chill. It’s England. It’s England on the 1st of September. I’m leaving this state soon. My motherland is dire. Dire me. I need to sit in my lodgings, write to the HSBC, tell the well-heeled to stop helping the iron-domed Israelis knock down the doomed, poor people’s homes in Palestine. Occupiers occupying the occupied, the poor. If I lived in England, I too might take to the streets.
But I don’t live in England.
I live in Thailand.
And now you know why!
If you have liked this sad depiction of England, take a look at “Love And Other Afflictions”, short stories set in the land of hope and glory.