Sunday, August 14, 2005

We're all Alf Garnett now pt1


To anybody who knows South London, the concept of a weekend festival called ‘I love Peckham’ is a challenging one, somewhat akin to ‘I love inner city squalor’ or ‘I love street crime’. Peckham is a rough part of town and unlikely to feature in any sequels to 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' or 'Notting Hill'.

Peckham, particularly Rye Lane, the main shopping drag, has a distinctly Third World feel to it. The lower end of Rye Lane is lined with ludicrously overstaffed Halal butchers, greengrocers selling vegetables I’ve never heard of and certainly wouldn't want to accidentally sit on, pounds stores and kiosks offering to unlock mobile phones, wire money to Lagos or sell you foot long cigarette papers.

People in Peckham buy their food in unbranded 25kg sacks.

Impromptu discussions on the street with evangelical Christians are normal

Many of the shoppers walking along Rye Lane, with all the purpose of gas molecules, exude a distinctly ‘new in town, new in the country’ vibe.

I remember browsing in a food store in Peckham once and picking up a 500g can of something. The can was bright red and featured a picture of a cow’s face accompanied by two lines of indecipherable scrawl that may, or may not, have been someone’s language. There were no other clues as to the can's contents.

That’s Peckham.

Anyway, we spent yesterday taking part in the annual ‘I love Peckham’ festival. I have a T-shirt to prove it.

And, unsurprisingly, I got to thinking about what it means to be British these days.


Some of the ethnic groups living in Peckham are familiar to me. They or their parents migrated from former British colonies in the Caribbean, West Africa or Asia. Their skin colour and culture are different but we at least share the same language and some cultural history. They also have some idea of what being British involves, or should I say used to involve. These communities have been around as long as I can remember and are an integral part of the London landscape. And the majority of them are as British as the Queen; HRH Elizabeth Windsor aka Elizabeth Sax-Coburg-Gotha.

But there are a lot, and I mean an awful lot, of people from other countries and cultures living in London right now that share nothing with the people of this land other than common humanity.

Apparently, they’re British too.

I’m not buying it. An increasing number of my fellow countrymen aren’t either and many of them aren’t as fluffy about the subject as I am.

The London Bombings acted as catalyst for a long-overdue, and deliberately suppressed, debate on the subject of our national identity. Unfortunately, the current standard of debate is proving to be just as retarded as not having a debate at all. There’s a focus on Muslims as being the only non-integrated group in British Society that is either ignorant or wicked. People with outright racist views are using terrorism as an excuse to justify their hatred. Other people are being plain stupid when it comes to distinguishing between multiculturalism and multiracialism, or even having some sense of what it means to be British or why a sense of national identity is important.



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