One of the things that really grates me about British (make that western) society is the absence of social responsibility, the indifference and selfishness. We saw it during the riots, when it was left to the East End’s Turkish community to defend large stretches of Dalston. I have intervened when youths have pelted older people with stones while others looked on. A South African friend wrestled muggers to the ground while a whole bus watched. I have many more examples.
Last night I was in the The Dove Pub on Broadway Market. We sat in a small side room, with no thoroughfare, and I felt safe putting two bags (one with two laptops) and another with an iPad next to our wooden bench.
That is until a middle-eastern looking chap asked to squeezed right past everybody and sit quite close to our bags, on his own. It immediately struck me as odd. Our little room was packed and I saw nobody else seemed to care, but I thought I’d better keep an eye on him.
There was a thought in the back of my mind that I should watch him because of our bags. But there was – I am ashamed to admit – another reason I watched him. Everybody else were very festive drunk even, and he appeared to be completely sober. The thought crossed my mind, what if this guy was a religious fanatic? What if he had a bomb? I felt guilty for having these thoughts. Oh prejudice!
For the same reason I did not move my bags. It would be a clear inference that I thought him untrustworthy if I moved my bags. And that was probably partly based on how he looked. Not cool at all I thought, and rude.
So instead I decided to keep an eye on him. And he did nothing, except chat on his phone. Then the jazz band struck up and I thought, ah! That must be why he was sitting there. Where he sat he had a clear view on the musicians in the back room. His worst crime was probably that he liked his rhythms syncopated.
That is when I relaxed and stopped watching him carefully. I drifted off into conversations about relationships with a friend. Until the guy suddenly stood up. I realised he was carrying his coat in such a way that I could not tell what he was carrying under it. Alarm bells. I asked Laura to check whether both our bags were there. No she said, just the one with the iPad was there.
I bolted through the bar. Outside he was just a few paces ahead of me. I ran up to the briskly walking man and gave him a shove. I shouted where are my laptops! He dropped to the ground and dropped the bag. Instinctively I reached for the bag. But I could have penned him to the ground. I was much stronger than him.
I chose to pick up the bag and the man scampered off.
All around people congratulated me. Good show!
Now I feel violated, stupid and conflicted. This minefield called prejudice handed me a traitors heart.
When we checked, it became obvious that the man had already helped himself to the iPad in the other bag. And he ran away with that. If I had not thought ah ok, I got my laptops, and if I had rather done my civic duty and held him down until the police came, not only would I have my iPad, I would also have done society a favour.
On Friday evening a South African friend told me how wonderfully tolerant they found the UK. Ja. Fan-fucking-tastic. That tolerance has a flip-side. Much that passes for tolerance is indifference.
PS: Having so much coms tech on me I was probably due for some redistribution.
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