Wednesday, 13 May 2009

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Passport Office...

Today, on my way to Durham (where I met with the Identity and Passport people and fast-tracked myself a replacement passport), I encountered my first overtly grumpy bastard. Not ever, but since I've been up North. He was the driver of the bus I boarded. I think I may have aggravated him somewhat by asking for a single ticket, then, on finding out that a return was cheaper, asking for a return, by which time he'd already punched through a single. (I know, I know, this is scintiallating stuff. But give it time, give it time.) Then, I think I may have aggravated him further by making a rather sarcastic awwww sound when he complained about the paperwork. He gave me a terrible glare. ‘Oh, come on,’ I said. ‘It’s not that bad.’ Apparently it was.

Durham, meanwhile, is really quite lovely. Very pretty and – especially after the earthquake-style rivers of garbage of inner-city London – astonishingly clean and tidy. Also, it has a distinctly village-like atmosphere, and lots of quaint old buildings. It reminds me of York. Maybe a tad funkier. Maybe not.

One thing that surprised me about it was that I saw three homeless guys in about half an hour, each of them selling the Big Issue. This seems like a lot for such a small city. On the upside, however, two of them were in the process of actually selling a copy of the magazine as I passed. I took this to be a very good, and telling, sign. The North is Good, I decided. The people are friendly and generous.

Then on the way back to the bus station after a wander around, I spied an elderly gentleman, probably in his seventies, handing out flyers on a bridge. He had something written on his jumper which I couldn’t make out. Generally, when I see someone handing something out, as long as it’s not outside a tube station, I will take it. So I made my way in the direction of this guy, assuming he was probably publicising something to do with war veterans or a charity for the elderly. Which was rather presumptuous of me really. As I got closer to the old guy, a hairy man passed me and shouted ‘You’re a fascist!’ over his shoulder. I looked back at him, alarmed. He carried on walking, then he shouted something else over his shoulder. Again, I could only make out the word ‘fascist’. Then I heard the silver-haired veteran, to whom I was instinctively predisposed to take kindly, mumbling, petulantly, ‘I don’t think so.’

I was just a couple of feet away from him by now and I managed to catch sight of one of the flyers he was distributing. It was this:

[Now, just in case you're unfamiliar with the BNP (you may be mentally lazy, wilfully ignorant or merely American), let me just explain what they are. They are - to a man - a dangerous collection of racist thugs and racist idiots. Nick Griffin, their leader for the last ten years, is on record as saying this: '...we affirm that non-Whites have no place [in Britain] at all and will not rest until every last one has left our land.' So there you go. There's lots more information, should you require it, here.]

So, on seeing the flyer, I walked straight past, feeling oddly scandalised and betrayed. This was the last thing I expected to happen. It was kind of doubly annoying because I was just thinking how I’d seen quite a few different coloured skins in Durham – more than I’d seen thus far in the North East. I guessed this was because of the university, and I felt buoyed by it. I felt buoyed because one of the things I'd not enjoyed about the North, particularly when I'd visited for the first time last year, was the astonishing homogeneity of the people. I swear, I’ve never seen so many white people. It’s like living in the 1930s. Or in some giant ethnically cleansed meringue.

So, after realising what was afoot, I lingered on the bridge a while, to observe. What I observed was that when people bother to take a flyer from someone in the street, a great many of them do so instinctively, and don’t necessarily even look at that flyer until they’ve walked on a few paces and turned the thing around in their hands. Thus I observed one middle-aged woman do just that, followed by a delicious cartoon double-take when she realised she was handling extreme right-wing propaganda. It was like she’d accepted a free balloon with a dancing childlike ebullience and then the balloon had suddenly twisted in the wind to reveal Adolf Hitler’s face on the other side. Or Peter Sutcliffe's.

Other people variously fell into head-shaking, surprised backward-glancing or mocking conversation. Another one shouted ‘fascist’, at which the old Nazi mumbled, petulantly, ‘I don’t think so.’ It wasn’t a very good comeback. I don’t know why he kept repeating it.

In the five minutes I stood there observing, I only saw one potential sympathiser - one too many obviously, but it could have been worse. She was an elderly woman, I would say in her sixties, with a mouth so egregiously pinched that it brought to mind images of a thin slice of lemon, pickled and pushed - like a vinegar firework - deep inside the puckered bum of a supercilious cat. Chewing a wasp. This lady took her fascist flyer proudly, knowing perfectly well what it was; she thanked the doddering jingoist warmly and walked off brisk and businesslike; she perused her flyer unflinchingly before folding it reverentially and filing it in the inside pocket of her stiff, mannish jacket. She scared me. Actually, it occurs to me now that she may have been a fascist stooge. I do hope so.

Finally, as I’m a firm believer in opening myself up to that with which I vehemently disagree, if only just to check that I am right to disagree quite so vehemently, I decided I had to get hold a copy of that flyer. I felt embarrassed, however, about taking one from Herr Goebbels himself, so instead I scoured the streets in the vicinity for a tossed copy. Surprisingly, there wasn’t one to be found. I decided to deduce from this that the inhabitants of Durham are all litter-loathing tidy-freaks, rather than closet Nazis.

Eventually I returned to the bridge, marched up to the misguided old fool and took a flyer from him. As I did so, I read the slogan on his chest. It said: ‘THE END OF ENGLAND IS NIGH’. I then gave the man such an intensely withering look – filled with disdain and bewilderment and not a little antagonism – that I think for a brief second he actually feared violent reprisal. Then I turned wordlessly on my heel and surprised myself by feeling a momentary pang of sorrow – he was just a confused, frightened old man really, not someone I should be scowling at. Then I looked at the flyer in my hands and quickly fell back into easy, natural outrage.

Oh, life is so sad.

After Durham I made a trip into Sunderland, which is the nearest big town to Grimstone, and I saw a man outside the train station selling homemade sandwiches from a plastic carrier bag. He’d written a bill of fare on a little piece of cardboard, which he held up with his free hand. ‘Baggets,’ the sign offered. 'One pound each.'

I’ve really got to start taking my camera out with me.

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Anonymous said...

not being versed in BNP platforms, just a perusal of the flyer seems quite communist. "get our farmers farming. keep our fishermen fishing. support local business"

golly gee willickers, folks... we can turn that old barn into a stage and put on a show and raise money for more flyers...

effective democratic processes require educated voters. perhaps the old stooge just hasn't a clue what they're really about.

makes me very sad, though. this is how George W. was re-elected. i'd have bought a sandwich. not sure i'd eat it, but i'd buy one.

Dan said...

I went to university. It was a pretty horrific place back then, I hope it's improved slightly.

As a proud Yorkshireman I'm also duty bound to inform you that you are too far north to be in the real north of England.

Nick68 said...

We live in Leicester which is about as racially intergrated as you can get. We went up to Harrogate last year, how "White" is that town!!

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

Bete, I know from the content of your post that you would be appalled by the idea of helping the BNP in any way whatsoever, and on that basis I think you need to either remove that flyer or edit your post.

The reason the BNP get votes is because they maintain a veneer of respectability. They keep very quiet about the fact that their leaders have (a) criminal records for violent hate crimes, and have (b) publicly supported Hitler (not to mention holocaust denial). At first glance leaflets like this, if you don't know exactly who they are and what they stand for, look quite reasonable.

But the way to halt their progress is to point out, with hard facts and clear reasoning, just exactly what kind of vile anti-democratic Nazis they are. They are supportive of racist murderers. If they had their way they would happily create a Nazi-equivalent regime in Britain. Free speech would be quoshed, there would be no democracy, no rights for black people or gay people or trade unions or... etc etc etc.

Seriously Bete. I know you meant well but I think it's deeply irresponsible to propagate their publicity unless you counter it with detailed argument and explain exactly why they are an incredibly nasty and disturbing bunch of people.

La Bête said...

Hey, Squirrel, you may be right. I must admit, I do feel a bit odd having their flyers on my site, but I assumed anyone reading this would either know already that they're horrible violent racists, or would at least understand that that is my opinion. Anyway, you've worried me enough to take down one image and add in a little explanation.

Beleaguered Squirrel said...


Incidentally, I wonder whether such small Northern towns are unique in being mainly white? Isn't it a small-town thing, rather than a Northern thing? Manchester (where I live), Leeds, Liverpool... are all very multi-racial. Indeed my son goes to a school where he's in the white minority.

amy grace said...

I love your "Let the whoring begin" section, especially that bit about capitalism and licking. Thanks for explaining about the BNP, My American Mentality(tm) did not previously allow for this type of overseas political information.

Litha said...

I'm not American, so I must be mentally lazy or wilfully ignorant? Not much choice there..

Anonymous said...

We have the BNP round our way too! One of their councillors lives on our road. He has stone lions either side of his drive, a caravan, a rottweiler, CCTV and permanently closed blinds. He has this haunted, hunted look about him which makes me think he's quite mentally ill. Their flyers are ace, though. They once did one as a response to all the extensively substantiated allegations of them having criminal records and such. They pointed out all of the other councillors of opposing political parties who had similar criminal records. The more I learn about politicians of all stripes, the more I think they're all stone-cold psychopaths.

Anonymous said...

appreciate the clarification...

in fact i am mentally lazy, willfully ignorant AND merely American (which, by the way, offends our South American friends...)

Panda said...

I SO wish I'd heard the sound of the vile BNP leaflet being dropped through my front door today because I would have really enjoyed giving whoever delivered it a mouthful. It's bad enough to have this racist filth peddled on the streets, but coming through my front door, into my house??!!

Great post hon.