Tag Archives: England

‘So Now What?’: The Future of the Union After the Scottish Independence Referendum

Hasn’t anybody told you? Now is the time for change: swift, bold and absolute. Things need to be different; the people of the Union (Welsh, Northern Irish, English and Scottish) won’t stand for this anymore. We don’t like Westminster because – well, there’s the problem. I know why I don’t like Westminster, and I’m fairly certain Nigel Farage does too, but we both dislike Westminster for radically different reasons. Hey, Farage, what would be the difference between white British/German MPs and white Romanian MPs?

The no campaign heavily criticised yes campaign on the basis that they had no detailed answers with regards to what an independent Scotland would look like. Indeed, they did not. After all, a yes vote would have meant the creation of a new parliament, and the government leading that parliament could have been from any end of the political spectrum.

And so the people of Scotland voted no. And change is coming, so we’re told. But, just as with the yes campaign, what we’ve not been told is exactly what that change will be. The Tories are discussing introducing a system whereby English laws can only be voted on by English people and Scottish laws can only be voted on by Scottish people. This is somewhat confusing for several reasons: The first is that at no point during his campaigning in Scotland did Cameron mention this plan (actually, that’s not confusing, it’s fairly obvious why he didn’t mention it, so I suppose ‘fucking sneaky’ was the expression I was looking for), the second is that Cameron is trying to introduce a system that will unravel the very Union he fought so hard to keep, and the third is that, if this is what Cameron wanted, why didn’t he introduce the further devolution option on the ballot papers of the Scottish Referendum in the first place? Let us not forget, it was his misguided arrogance that led to the strict ‘yes/no’ referendum when a ‘yes/no/more devolution/less devolution’ referendum was clearly on the cards.

And so we turn to Labour? Ed Milliband attempted to woo his voters with a solid outline of what Labour would do if they were voted in now Scotland have voted ‘yes’. This was a great chance for Miliband. He had the attention of a left-leaning English, Welsh and Northern Irish audience, usually sympathetic towards charismatic Labour leaders, and the attention of a pro-Union, pro-Labour, left-leaning Scottish audience who are usually downright devoted to charismatic Labour leaders. The issue was that his ‘solid outline’ wasn’t very solid at all. He said ‘change’ and ‘devolution’ several times, but hasn’t mentioned what this change or devolution would entail. He did, however, say that he disagreed with the Tory’s proposed reforms. So at least we know what kind of devolution Miliband doesn’t want.

You could argue that it’s early days yet. I mean, Jeez, they’ve only just finished campaigning. Give them break, right? Except that no voters were promised a ‘motion’ from the ‘No Thanks’ campaign; the motion should have happened yesterday: ‘The day after a No Vote the timetable for further powers will be published as a motion before the UK parliament. All UK parties will support the motion.’ Ignoring the fact that ‘All UK parties’ couldn’t agree on anything more complex than a colour scheme for a 3 year old’s birthday party, the fact is that this did not happen. So, unless they did it in secret, I think we were lied to. Still, the new Doctor is Scottish. And, thankfully, Scotland is still part of the Union. So, I’m sure, if we ask nicely, we can borrow the TARDIS, go back in time, and have this little motion after all. How about it Doctor?

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‘You’ll starve to death trying to find the light switch’

Bloody hell. Maybe not then… So now what?

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‘Basking in the Glorious Rain’: The Little Details I Missed about England after Ten Months in Oman

I am finally back in England after ten months in Oman, and while there are some fairly obvious things that I have missed, there are some which maybe require some explanation…

Rain

If you’ve ever taken an English literature class in high school, you’ll remember the teacher asking airy questions like ‘What does the tree represent?’, ‘How does this word make you feel?’ and ‘What is the effect of this comma?’. Personally, I loved these questions, that’s why I became an English teacher, but being an English teacher means I am well aware of the fact that this feeling is not universal. Sometimes students need to be pushed towards certain ideas. So when quizzing to my Omani students about what mood they felt the rain in a short story we were reading was meant to create, I thought I’d present the question a little differently. I simply asked them, ‘How does rain make you feel?’. The answers, to an Englishman, were somewhat surprising:

‘Happy’

‘Excited’

‘Amazed’

…Wait what?

‘Good weather’ is a relative idea. In Oman, the average day means blue skies and 38 degree heat. A rainy day is something different, something new, and the kids love it. On the rare occasions when it rained in school, the kids would run out into the playground jumping around, kicking puddles at each other, and generally get as wet as possible. If these sounds strange to you, ask yourself what you did as a child when it snowed. Or how English people react to the tiniest bit of sun. In India, after the heat of the summer is finally broken by rain, people go out into the streets and dance. Rain isn’t an intrinsically miserable thing. It’s the fact that we’re always surrounded by it that makes it miserable. And, even though I am English, after ten months of 38 degree heat I too started to long for the rain and tire of the sun. You might laugh, but it gets tedious. The sweat, the sun-burn and the stickiness of hot weather can become just as frustrating as the cold, the damp and the sniffles of rainy weather. My first evening back in England it rained. And as my girlfriend frantically ran for the front door carrying one of my suitcases, I stood there basking in the glorious rain. To the outside world, I’m sure I looked a complete prat. But in my head, I was Andy Dufrane at the end of The Shawshank Redemption.

Life is always better when Morgan Freeman narrates it.

Life is always better when Morgan Freeman narrates it.

Pavements

You probably take it for granted that you can walk to the cornershop, buy some milk, and walk back again. You can do this in Oman too of course but, generally, people don’t. Cars are cheap, taxis are cheap, petrol is cheap and it’s too hot to walk very far so pavements are not really seen as a necessity. Though certain parts of Oman do have pavements, these are like the maps in London. They are there for tourists and are only needed in areas where tourists congregate. Big Ben has maps; Muttrah Souk has pavements. Willesden Junction does not have maps; Al-Malaweh does not have pavements because Al-Mawaleh, like Willesden Junction, has no tourism.

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People are missing out of course. There are many wonders at Willesden Junction.

Pubs

There is alcohol in Oman (the expatriate community is too large and too Irish to be ignored) but it’s not easy to get hold of. It’s an expensive luxury, imported for the sake of the Westerners; hence, pubs, as far as I know them, are non-existent. Oman has bars and nightclubs, but a pub is very particular. Because a pub should be simple, it should have a relaxed atmosphere, and it should be a place where your decision over your next drink is made by consulting the shrapnel in your pocket and the general mood your in. Pubs mean casual conversations, football and lots of sitting down. Most of all, a pub should be a place where pretentious tossers like myself, philosophising over the definition of a pub, are told to fuck off back to their university seminars with the rest of their arty wanker kind.

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Pubs: no smoking, no drugs and no fuckin’ post-modernism.

But if your drink costs six pounds, it’s hard to avoid pretension, it’s hard to act casual and it’s hard to want to stay sat down for long. You want to dance, you want to drink shots and you want to listen to loud music. You want to pose, you want write things on the internet using hashtags, and you want to take photos. To put it bluntly, if you’re spending six pounds on a drink, you don’t want to be in a pub.

If you’re spending six pounds on a drink, you want to be in a bar, you want to be in a club and, in some cases, you just want to get wankered. Or rather, if you’re spending that much money on a drink, you want to already be wankered. Because then, miraculously, six pounds no longer seems that expensive…

U.S. singer Katy Perry performs at the 2010 MuchMusic Video Awards in Toronto

…And Katy Perry’s music no longer makes you want to tear your eyes out.

Even places that call themselves pubs in Oman are not very pub-like. They serve pints, play football and have comfortable leather chairs but, come 10pm, the people spending too much money on their alcohol want something more than ergonomic seating areas. And the people get what they want. And the music begins to play. And the dancing starts and, before you know it, O’Malley’s Irish pub is no longer a pub – it’s a bar-club hybrid full of pint glasses and dish-dashas. There’s no last order bell. There are no fruit-machines. And nobody cares.

Nobody, of course, except the drunken Englishman, sat in the corner, nursing his lager and thinking of his rainy, pavement filled country and its quiet little pubs. I loved Oman, but I can’t help my Englishness. The Arabian deserts, the wadis and the mosques were all very impressive – but I couldn’t help but miss the shitty-little details that make England England.

“English Drink; Catalans Party”: What St. George’s Day Tells us About the Difference Between England and Catalonia

I’m English, Wednesday was St. George’s Day, and so I celebrated in the typically English fashion; that is to say, I did absolutely nothing…

Party

Another successful St. George’s Day party

…as the people of Catalonia (a place where I once lived for five months) absolutely filled the streets…

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…And FC Barcelona weren’t even playing that day.

You see, while April 23rd has long been a day that the English spend either Morris-dancing, not realising it’s St. George’s Day, or crossing their fingers that the EDL don’t do something stupid, it is a day that the Catalan people absolutely adore. St. George, as it happens, was also known as St. Jordi and is their patron saint as well. But why is it that Catalonia celebrates the day of this patron saint louder than the English do? And what does this tell us, if anything, about the difference between the English and the Catalan people? Well, for a start…

It’s Awkward Being English.

Catalan nationalism is at its peak, and we’ll go on to why later, but English nationalism is… confusing. After all, most English people define themselves as British and British nationalism, so they say, is much more progressive and much friendlier than its English counterpart. Britishness is associated with the Olympics, the government and the Queen. Englishness is associated with racism, football violence and alcohol. As this bloke from the guardian argues (in an article about Scottish independence), Britishness envelops other cultures; people are British Muslims, British Indians and British Africans. Whereas Englishness has only stereotypes, and just two of them at that; you are either Northern or Southern.

North vs. South

Two different looking white men = Diversity

So the whole idea of English nationalism falls flat on its face before it can even formulate itself into a day. After all, it’s much more politically correct to be British nowadays – isn’t it? Well, no – not really. The British National Party, the British Empire and British Imperialism are all horrible evils that have been used as excuses to abuse pretty much every race, gender and nationality on the planet. As Al Murray has pointed out, Britain, in some war, at some point, has ‘beaten’ every single country in the world…

Flag

…Yay?

Yet the fact remains, if you wave the British flag in your back garden, the worst people think is that you’re a royalist or a bit of Tory. If you wave the English flag in your back garden, people think you’re a racist. Whether or not this is true is beside the point. Similarly, whatever McDonald’s attempt to do in terms of making their food healthier, their business greener or their staff happier, those golden arches, to most people, will always have the same meaning…

mcdonalds

…Shit jobs, shit food and low, low prices. That’s what makes McDonald’s.

But, even if we could turn rally the troops, and get people to celebrate being English that wouldn’t matter either because…

The English Have Nothing to Celebrate

“How could you say that? Of course we have things to celebrate! There’s The Beatles, and Shakespeare and David Beckham and all the other cool things that David Cameron mentioned in his speech…”

Yes, I suppose we do have some achievements to our name (not all of which are soaked in the blood of the people we enslaved) but we don’t have cause for celebration in the way that other nations do. St. Patrick’s Day, for example, is so huge because Ireland had to fight (the British) to exist. American Independence is also a big deal because they too had to fight (the British) to exist. Omani National Day is popular because it celebrates the relatively recent 42 year reign of Sultan Qaboos and all of the things he has done for his country… Also, Oman had to fight the British at one point. However, St. George’s Day celebrates – what exactly? We have not recently emerged from some previous hardships, we are not fighting for independence, and we are not calling for any kind of revolution. As a result, we don’t bother. England is like Fight Club. We have no cause. Like Brad Pitt says, “We have no great war. No great depression…

Fight Club

…and your food is shit too. The first rule of English cooking is – you do not eat English food. The second rule of English cooking is – you do NOT eat English food.”

Yet this does not mean that the English come across as modest. As my Irish friend pointed out, we seem like a very ‘proud’ nation; we are a comfortable country resting on thousands of years of history and stability. At the same time though, our country is too old, too established and too apathetic to celebrate its own existence. In fact, the very act of not celebrating, the very act of quietly sitting down, drinking tea, and doing nothing but nodding in acknowledgement when someone says “it’s Saint George’s Day today” is the very essence of what it is to be English.

Noel Coward at Tea

“St George’s Day? I see… Well… Um… Jolly good. Huzzah… More milk darling?”

Catalonia, on the other hand, is not established – at all. In fact, despite what many Catalan people will tell you, it’s not a country – not technically anyway. They are fighting for something, they do have a cause and, as a result, they have something to celebrate.

But I would like to take a moment to dwell upon why the politics behind Catalan’s independence is slightly awkward. On the one hand, general Franco abused the Catalan people in ways which has always made people sympathetic of their cause. On the other hand, this abuse has stopped and the Catalan people are now rich. In fact, despite the recession, they are still the richest province in Spain. As a result, the Catalan call for independence can’t really be compared with Ireland’s, Scotland’s or India’s. A better comparison would be if London wanted independence from the UK; it would take away all of our wealth and sink the British economy in the process but the people of London would certainly be more prosperous as a result.

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“Why Skyler? Because fuck Yorkshire. That’s why.”

The Catalan call for independence, then, seems less like a scene Les Miserables and more like a scene from The Wolf of Wall-Street. The aim here is to avoid paying taxes for the rest of Spain; ‘they are struggling and we are not’ is the general idea. Whatever your view, you can certainly understand why people would want this independence – and why they’re celebrating St. George’s day.

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Besides, who’d want to be in ‘Les Miserables’? Marius and the gang never had a party like this.

Anyway, even if it were possible to ignore all the politics behind a day that celebrates nationalism, the Catalan people would still do it better because…

The English Can’t ‘Party’

Victoria Coren (a woman I would marry if weren’t for such obstacles such as the fact that she is already married, unaware of my existence, and not an appropriate age for me. Also, I have a girlfriend…) was once on an episode of Room 101 where she argued that the verb ‘to party’ should be forever banished because it just seems a tad too raucous. I agree, and I feel most English people would also agree, but not because we are a quiet nation of tea-drinkers and corgi lovers…

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…Though, thanks to him, this is the prevailing idea internationally…

…but because we cannot, and have never been able, ‘to party’. We don’t ‘party’. We have parties, where we get drunk, have sex and sometimes take drugs, but we don’t ‘party’. Let me explain, once again, by way of comparison to Catalonia.

When Catalan people talk about a night out, they don’t say ‘we get shitfaced’, ‘we get wankered’ or ‘we get absolutely bollocksed’, they say ‘hem partit’ (‘we party’). Do you see? Us English are so focused on getting drunk that we cannot even fathom using a verb that doesn’t include alcohol to describe our desires for a night out. In Catalonia, whenever I went out ‘to party’ with other Catalans I noticed that, while they were dancing, kissing each other, and generally getting a bit out of control, they weren’t drinking as much as I was. Some of them weren’t even drinking at all… Imagine that? So, does that mean they’re soft? That they don’t ‘do’ nights out like us English do? Not really. To be honest, they put me to shame. English nightclubs close at 4am because, by that point, we’re too drunk to stand. Catalan nightclubs are open until 8 or 9am because the aim isn’t to ‘get wankered’ the aim is ‘to party’.

And the evening isn’t even the most telling part. The daytime of April 23rd is where the English the Catalan people truly differ. In Catalonia, they have a tradition for the daytime. Typically, the boys buy girls roses, they girls buy boys books and, in the afternoon, some people watch a Punch and Judy-esque puppet performance of the dragon being slain. In England, there is no tradition. We don’t have the day off and, even if we did, we’d probably just use the daytime to get drunk as well. As far as celebrating or ‘partying’ goes, daytime or not, drinking is all we English have. ‘To drink’ is our celebratory verb. English drink; Catalans party.

Thing is though, there could be a tradition if we wanted one. I mean, Shakespeare was born on April 23rd.

Shakespeare (1)

“I don’t know how to put this but… I’m kind of big deal.” – From William Shakespeare’s ‘Anchorman’

To sum up, it seems that even if we managed to rid Englishness of all its negativity and lethargy, even if we managed to get the day off, and even if we could fill that day with something other than poisoning our livers – there is something in our bones that makes us completely unable to celebrate anyway. That, then, is the key difference.

Let’s imagine that St. Jordi was Catalan. He would have slain the dragon in the morning, took the damsel home, made sweet love to her, fell asleep in the midday heat, woke up, ate some paella, drank some wine, took the damsel out for a lovely walk on the beach, ‘partied’ on the beach until sunset, met some of the damsels friends, and took them home as well for more love making, wine-drinking and relatively sober fun.

Now let’s imagine that St. George was English. He probably would have woken up late, from a hangover, missed the bus to the dragon’s cave, walked five miles in the rain, have slain the dragon by 2 in the afternoon (making him late for tea at his mum’s), had tea with his mum, listened to her complaining about the bus service, went home, reheated a cold roast dinner, invited the damsel out for a pint, get rejected, go out with a few friends instead, get absolutely smashed, go to bed at 2am and wake up with another hangover, the realisation that he might be an alcoholic and the usual guilt of the white English imperialist. It turns out that the dragon was, in fact, a poor Irish/Indian/African dragon that had been slain in another act of unnecessary English aggression.

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“Oops. Bloody hell, sorry mate.”

Oh well… Happy Belated Saint George’s Day!

An Idiot’s Guide to Nirvana

I

Sitting down in his chair, the Englishman opened the button of his suit jacket, placed his sunglasses on the glass-topped table, and breathed in the cool summer morning air. In front of him lay the entire city of Barcelona and sixty minutes to enjoy it. He moved his eyes across the panorama, sipping the view like wine. He was sitting at the top of Placa Espanya, in an appropriately expensive cafe, looking back into madness of the city he had just escaped from. Immediately in front of him, two stone statues overlooked a long series of marble steps and different plateaued levels until the view reached street level where four impressive columns and a fountain greeted visitors. After this lay a long stretch of road, teeming with people taking photos, which stopped at two more impressive columns leading to large roundabout with a large statue in the middle. The symmetry of it all was astoundingly beautiful but here is where the symmetry gave way to the madness of human nature. From the roundabout, the city spread out in all directions any way it wanted to. The only rule, it seemed, to this spread of concrete, glass, marble and plastic was that it had to reach the mountains in front of him and to the left and the sea on the right. So long as the city filled this canvas, it could behave anyway it wanted to.

To the well-dressed Englishman, Barcelona was freedom. Here, the people ate, drank and slept however they wanted. Here, the crime was high, the poverty spilled into every narrow lane, yet indulgence and luxury dripped from the edges of pre-20th Century designed building facade. Low culture and high culture, rich and poor, the Mediterranean diet and the diet of cigarettes, red meat and beer all met in this melting pot, this city, this Barcelona. But there was still control. The mountains and the beach were to the space of the city what European expectations were to its people; they were a means of regulation. To the well-dressed Englishman, Barcelona was freedom. But to the badly-dressed Indian, it was a prison.

Badly-dressed and well-dressed are, like of freedom and prison, fairly relative terms. The Englishman had on one of his lesser suits. The grey jacket was, in his opinion, a bit too dark for the time of day and year. It was also single vented, which gave it a boxy look if he ever put his hands in his pockets, and felt far too big. The trousers needed to be tapered in near his shoes and the shoes had issues of their own. They were brown wing-tipped brogues but, like the suit, they were also a bit too dark. Also, he had chosen suede over leather, in a moment of madness, and had regretted it ever since. The Indian, on the other hand, was very happy with his new ‘European’ clothes. His shoes were bright red Nike Shox with a green swoosh. His jeans were jet black with silver stitching. And his t-shirt was a bright purple one with ‘I’m that good’ (‘that’ was underlined) printed in yellow across the chest. He stood at the top of La Rambla, the main touristic high-street about half an hour’s walk from Placa Espanya, selling toys, gadgets and souvenirs. It was too early in the day to sell cans of beer.

To him, Barcelona was Europe and Europe had a lot of rules. The roads were straight, rigid and frustratingly routine. Even when it would have made more sense to bend a rule or two, for the sake of an anomaly of some kind, Europeans would blindly obey. Food also had to be eaten in certain ways, at certain times and with certain wines. And everything had certain names. It was Espanya in Catalan, España in Spanish and Spain in English. His native Hindi was spoken in thousands of ways. Names, places, foods and verbs were all spelt and spoken differently and yet most of it was still called Hindi. He didn’t understand this European need to classify and control everything because, when the week was over, these same people would crave for drunkenness, madness and a complete lack of control. He and his friends never used to drink, they never needed to in Bihar, but in Europe, under the weight of all these rules, he could understand the appeal of collapsing with a beer

His view of the city was also different. He stood facing a wide street that stretched as far as he could see; the horizon eventually collapsing into a crowd of people and buildings. He was told that Barcelona had some unique elements to it but, to him, it looked more or less like any high-street in Europe. That wasn’t to say that he didn’t find it beautiful too but that was mainly because it was so different. The high street in the Englishman’s home town of Hartlepool would have probably impressed him almost as much. Searching his pocket for change, he set his stock down on a birdshit stained public bench and scratched his chin. He was confused as to whether or not to shave in this country. He had always believed that shaving was a very European thing, and that it went hand-in-hand with their need for order, but he had seen many rich, fashionable looking Europeans with beards thicker than his. He pulled out his change and counted it, figuring out whether he had enough for the lunchtime customers, and put it all back into his pocket. He liked how European money used so many coins. The rupee had notes from 5 to 5000, but a note here was a bit of a rarity in his line of work. He remembered the joy he felt when a Scottish teenager bought all twenty five cans of his Estrella Damm during the madness of San Juan with two fresh notes. He almost didn’t want to fold them.

The Englishman checked his watch. Then he remembered that it was broken. He’d meant to get it repaired but today, of all days, he needed it to look the part. He pulled out his phone. It was twenty-five to nine, which meant he had thirty minutes, which annoyed him. For one, he didn’t understand why anyone would organise a meeting for five minutes past an hour. “Either make it on the hour or quarter past”, he thought to himself, “and besides this is Spain; everybody’s going to be five minutes later than me anyway”. The other reason the thirty minutes annoyed him were that they didn’t give him enough time to order food but they gave him too much time to get to where he needed to be. He was in a limbo created by the desire to be on time, the desire to enjoy himself and an unforeseen coffee-induced third factor; he needed to use the toilet. The Indian man’s troubles were, arguably, a shade more genuine.

For the Indian man didn’t need to check his watch. He knew he was late. It was the hangover that had done it; he wasn’t used to them. Yet he’d had to learn about them very quickly in his transformation from devout Hindu to burger-eating alcoholic. He’d woken up that morning with the recently familiar dry-stickiness in his mouth, the greasy film of beer and whiskey smelling sweat on his skin and the ache that plagued his shaking body. What was unfamiliar to him was the way in this particular hangover had caused him to oversleep. He was an alcoholic, he knew this, but he always thought of himself as a functioning one. This had hurt his pride. Not to mention had made him late. His brother had expected him five minutes ago, but he couldn’t leave. He had to sell his stock if was going to make enough money to pay his brother, which he would have done by now if he had woken up on time.

Today had been a strange day for the Indian, and as a result he no longer minded being called an Indian. The word used to annoy him; he didn’t like the power of generalisation couched within it. After all, he was Bihari. And even though Bihar’s population, landmass and diversity of culture equalled, if not rivalled, that of England’s, here he was simply called Indian. The idea that over a billion people, millions of cultures and thousands of years of history could summed up ignorant Westerners in one adjective used to bug him.

Except for the fact that the adjective ‘Western’ and the noun ‘Westerners’ did exactly the same thing. That was his epiphany. And so today, the slight break in his routine caused by him waking up late, the slightly different look of that morning, made him view everything a little differently. Because if he was able to split the Westerner up, identify them as English, French, Catalan or Texan, and they were not able to do the same with the Indian, why should he be offended? If anything, he took it as a compliment; it meant that he was smarter. From five years of selling his humble stock on La Rambla he was slowly able to break down the barriers of generalisation that keep cultures apart. He stopped confusing Irish with British people, Portuguese with Spanish, Swedish with Norwegian and, as a result, saw his sales improve.

The Englishman could not claim the same ability. To him, Pakistanis and Indians, though he recognised and understood the significance of their separateness, looked the same. With regards to what part of India the Indian came from, there was not a hope of him knowing. And so, as the Englishman emerged from the metro-steps on his way to his meeting and bumped into the Indian two very distinct noises come out of two very distinct mouths for two very distinct reasons. And the distinctness had been bred from the fact that, although both people were living in Barcelona, they were living in two distinct cities.

To the Englishman, the collision was another obstacle in a city that, despite seeming so busy, beautiful, and important, continually failed to organise itself in order to ‘do’ anything about anything. To him, every meeting began with a coffee, happened during a meal and ended with several drinks. While everybody looked important, while everybody nodded and made adjustments to their tablet computers and skinny fitting suits, nothing happened. It was a city of style over practicality where, when the pressure was really on, he would be let down by yet another decoration. Because to him, the Indian was nothing but an overweight, overly colourful, token of ‘diversity’, a tick in a leftie checklist of ‘things that make a metropolitan city’. And it (meaning the Indian) had, in the way all other stylistic elements of the city had, done nothing but stood in the way of practicality.

To the Indian, the collision was another opportunity in a city that could make the poor seem rich and the rich seem poor. Wealthy Europeans would sit in cheap bars, covered in graffiti and stinking with urine, while one of his penniless Bangladeshi friends could ‘sample’ some expensive aftershave from Cort de Ingles and have a threesome with two French-Canadian girls. To him, every day of work was different because the city wasn’t just diverse on its surface, as the Englishman believed, it was diverse to its core. Even the natives here, people whose entire family had born lived and died in Barcelona for hundreds of years, were radically different in their identities. That is to say, even if you took all the internationalness out of Barcelona, it still would not be able to define itself as Spanish or Catalan. And to him, the Englishman represented another aspect of this diversity and another opportunity for the poor man to seem rich.

And so, the collision of these two physical bodies created collision of noise. Simultaneously, the Englishman grunted and the Indian laughed.

“Watch where you’re…” stopping himself mid-sentence, the Englishman regained his composure and chose a different word “…ruddy going.” The Englishman addressed his obstacle; the Indian addressed his opportunity.

“Sorry Mr English. I love England. Ruddy nice weather hai?”

“It’s hot, yeah”

“I have…”

“Not today, I’m going somewhere”

The Englishman briefly got his bearings, walked towards Placa Catalunya and then left into a generic-looking, but appropriately expensive, hotel where, deep inside the air-conditioned lobby, an overhead projector, a laptop and an audience of people in skinny suits with tablet computers awaited.

II

Had the Indian man have taken the same route as the English person that day he might have thought about Barcelona’s two hearts, its double centre, its intrinsic diversity; he might have thought about how amazing it was that a person could see Placa Espanya, travel ten minutes on the metro, and emerge from the underground into Placa Catalunya. Two cultures, two languages, two countries could be swallowed by the eyes in less than half an hour. Because the Indian didn’t sip his views like wine; he downed them like beer. Or, before he was an alcoholic, swallowed them like chillies or cups of hot, sweet, garram chai.

Had the Englishman taken the same route as the Indian person that day he would have used the hangover as an excuse for his anger. A hangover was an excuse, an easily identifiable source of anger, and so he almost longed for one. But today, he was angry and his anger had a slightly more abstract source. He had been drinking last night and he was tired, but he knew that, in this case, correlation was not causation. The fact was he had cheated on his wife, again, and had no-one to blame but himself. The anger was abstract because there were no extremes, rights or wrongs; there was only a series of complications. Two years ago, he had cheated on her by kissing another woman, apologised, kissed another woman three months later. She then had sex with another man, he then kicked her out of the house, she came back, all was forgiven, and then he said something. Within the heat of an argument he had said that he was glad that the ‘crazy-dementia ridden cunt’ (meaning her mother) was dead. She then hit him with a plate and broke his nose. He then had sex with another woman, she had kicked him out and now, three years into their marriage, he had had sex with yet another woman. Relationships are strange, he thought. Loving someone means being able to be yourself and, in turn, being able to be crueller to them than anyone else. You spend all your time with someone and, suddenly, there is no place for the dark greedy side of your personality to hide. He had never hit a woman, she had never hit a man, but love, their marriage, had brought it out of them. Yet, when people have spent years beating, cheating and hurting each other, love is the cockroach after that nuclear war. He loved her, and she loved him, because they would rather hurt each other than anyone else.

He believed in the force of love, and he believed in the power of this force; he just didn’t believe that it was a good thing. The Indian too had a similar belief. He had grown up with Bollywood: films that were close to the four hour mark and had, in his mind, about two hours more depth than Hollywood films as a result. A ninety minute ‘rom-com’ was non-existent. If a film was about love, it was epic, violent, complex and never light-hearted.  Both men then were at a similar age and had similar understandings of love; in that sense, they had about as much in common as two men could hope for. And they would meet again, beginning a complicated relationship that could also be described as love, at least by their unique definitions of the concept. The Indian, still a Hindu, saw their next meeting as fate; the Englishman, with his physical soul made of nerve endings and blood, thought the Indian was following him.

Perhaps, in a way, both were true. They met again several hours later. The Englishman had just finished his meeting in the large air-conditioned room with the skinny-fitting suits and tablet computers. The meeting had not gone well and they would meet again tomorrow. The Englishman would have to wear the same suit and make the speech again because the most important client, the only one he had any chance of actually selling his idea too, hadn’t even shown up. His flight was delayed and that was that. This man didn’t need to panic in the same way the Englishman did. He was the kind of person that would arrive when they arrived; everyone else had to deal with it. The Englishman’s confidence was shattered and his confidence was the only thing left holding this idea together. What had started off as a UK-based charity whose aim was to use theatre to help the homeless had slowly become a very lucrative Paris-based business. He hadn’t meant it, but the force of capitalism was as inventible as gravity.

It had all started when he was the tender age of twenty-one. Fresh out of Manchester University with a First Class Honours in Philosophy and Ethics, he had a head full of altruistic ideas and youthful optimism that seemed invincible. Seemed, of course, is the key word. At first, all money came from the government. The idea was presented to rotary clubs, while he wore badly fitting shirts and unpolished shoes. Then money started coming from other charities and he began to wear nicer shoes and nicer shirts. Soon, the charity was making enough money for him to take a liveable salary out of it. It felt a bit strange at first but he reminded himself that everyone needed a wage. Even Nelson Mandela got a pay check eventually. Soon, however, the charity got bigger and, as a result, he needed to employ other people. However, strict restrictions on what makes a charity a charity and a business a business began to get confused in his head. Extremely fine lines became blurry and so he decided to cut his losses and strip the company of its charity status. He decided he would rather have an ethical business than a business-like charity. It was surprisingly easy. The donations from the rotary clubs, other charities and the public stopped but were immediately replaced by large donations from big companies. Only these were not called donations, they were called investments.

At first, it was hard to see how donations and investments differed, but they did. Charities and businesses alike both expected certain things from their investments, but they did differ somehow. Even if he never fully understood the laws that separated the two, he saw the motives differ immediately. But he was caught in a void. The people he dealt with in the charity world seemed kind and giving yet unrealistic and naive. The people he dealt with in the business world seemed ambitious and intelligent yet greedy and cruel. Eventually, he caved. He no longer knew what direction to take the company and so gave into the prevailing forces of profit. Before he knew it, the theatre company was doing shows in some of Paris’ most exclusive theatres. The selling point of ‘Organic Theatre’ was that everything was local. All props, costumes and sets were made from locally sourced material and all staff and artists were locals too. The difference was context. Yes, it was still about being local, but the locality had changed. The homeless men and women of Manchester were, once again, out of a job whilst the local economy of a small upper middle-class Parisian suburb began to boom. Maybe the difference between charity and business wasn’t clear to him, but he definitely knew there was a difference.

Now, his business was about to become even bigger. Purged of all altruism, in Barcelona he had the opportunity to sell the Parisian company to a franchisee and began a chain of local theatre companies. ‘Organic Theatre’ was about to become multinational. He remembered a lecture from his days studying philosophy about Theseus’ ship. The ship had started off as several planks of wood, ordered in such a way as to make it a ship. When the ship had sailed across enough sea, some of the planks needed replacing. After years of sailing, enough planks had been replaced so that no original planks remained. The ship had been repaired so much that every original piece of material had been replaced with a new one. The question is, was it the same ship? As the Englishman sat at the hotel bar drinking an 11 Euro glass of wine in a country where a bottle of some of the finest wine in the world was only 10 Euros, he wondered whether ‘Organic Theatre’ was still the same company. After two more glasses, he wondered whether he was still the same person.

The Indian too had a definite business opportunity ahead of him. The difference being that he was not resisting its pull because, to him, the force of capitalism did not feel like gravity. And, if it did, then the Bihar he was born in existed deep in the recesses of space. He was not, as has been mentioned, here alone. He had moved here with his brother and the rest of their small business as part of wave of immigration. His Buddhist friend, one of their employees, noted how this wave helped him understand more clearly one of the key truths of Buddhism. Namely, that they had no individual identity. There was no such thing as self. To say that there was a self was like saying that each individual crest on the sea had a self when, in reality, it was simply another part of the ocean. To him, this wave of immigration, as the Spanish media continued to call it, did not have the negative connotations that perhaps the Spanish right had wanted it to have. To him, it was a reminder of humanity’s duty to itself and the non-importance of individualism. Language was a funny thing. One expression had one meaning and yet it had it also had two meanings. The Buddhist liked this because it only served, for him, as further evidence of languages imperfections, the imperfections of thought and the imperfections of living. Life and all its forces, or ‘suffering’ as it is sometimes roughly translated, simply kept us away from the higher truth of the universe.

In their own ways, both the Indian and the Englishman had wrestled with this idea at some point. The Indian because he was from Bihar, the founding place of Buddhism, and the Englishman because he had studied philosophy. But both of them, for whatever reason, had simply cast the idea aside, unresolved, and continued to invest in the imperfect systems of our imperfect world.

Capitalism, for every complaint against it, seemed invincible to them. The Buddhist simply smiled. He smiled when the small restaurant started doing very well in Bihar, moving from small town of Islampur to the big city of Patna. He smiled when it began to attract tourists, white people and, as a result, money. He smiled when some French newspapers reviewed the restaurant, when it started to become a hotspot for back packers, when it found its way into travelling guides, when the wealthy bearded Europeans began sitting there and first began confusing the Indian man with their facial hair, when they dreamed of taking the business to a European city, when they realised how their hard-earned million rupees translated into a measly ten thousand Euros, when they realised that they would be trading an extremely affluent Indian lifestyle for an extremely poor European one, when the papers began to describe them, and the people that worked with them, as wave of immigrants stealing jobs despite the fact that there was absolutely nothing to steal in the piss-stained backstreet where they opened their restaurant and despite the fact that they had created jobs by hiring cleaners, requiring plumbers, builders and furniture… The Buddhist smiled at all of this because it was just life, people, complaining about that which did not matter. He smiled constantly, aware of the higher purpose, and because of this he seemed polite. Because of this he had a steady job with a steady smile that had never wavered, increased or decreased, despite all of the increases and decreases, ups and downs, in this imperfect suffering that people called life.

And so, in another imperfect accident in this mess of meaningless suffering, the two forces driving the Englishman and the Indian lead to another meeting created by another collision. The Englishman was being pulled, somewhat unwillingly, by the constant growth of his profit; the Indian was being pushed backwards and forwards by the brutality of competition. Specifically, or rather literally, the Englishman was going to his hotel room, in an expensive suit he needed tomorrow, and the Indian was headed to the restaurant with a fistful of money and a two vats of curried lamb which they needed that night. The two forces drove them to their own destinations but the force that lead to the collision? Perhaps it was, as Indian believed with his waning Hinduism, a fate ordained by the Gods. Perhaps it was, as a writer might believe, the force of a good story, life imitating art, because if they hadn’t have collided a second time then there would be no story to tell. Perhaps it was, as the Buddhist believed, just another meaningless accident. The one thing it was definitely not was, as the Englishman believed, because the Indian was following him.

To fully understand this part of the story, the losses of both sides need to be totalled up in chronological order. Chronological order, in this case, means analysing the collision by fractions smaller than seconds. As the Englishman was entering the metro at the top of La Rambla and the Indian walking past it, towards his brother’s restaurant, they collided in the exact same spot they had before.  The two hundred Euros that the Indian owed his brother were the first casualty. As his hand collided with the Englishman’s elbow, his grip on both the vats and the money was released. As the vats were still falling towards the ground the money had been torn into pieces by the force of the vat in his right hand acting under the influence of gravity and violently pulling the money from his fingers towards the ground along with its own weight. The next casualty was the Indian’s foot, where the vat that had torn the money had landed and broken bones. Next the Englishman’s trousers were stained by a wave, not of immigration but indirectly caused by it, of hot curry sauce. Immediately after this, almost at the same time but accuracy is important, the exact spots where the trousers had been stained created severe burns where his legs were underneath. A second wave of curry, caused by the other vat, closer to the Englishman completely soaked the left side of his outfit first and thus severely burned the left side of his body immediately after. As the waves of curry hit the Englishman they were, of course, Indian casualties too. In killing the Englishman’s suit they had killed themselves and were immediately turned from exotic delicacy to expensive mess. After this the Indian began falling, as a result of his broken foot and new centre of gravity, down the metro steps. The first broke his arm, the next few bruised him and the final step, a place where the steps plateaued before starting up again (much like Placa Espanya) both broke his nose, knocked him out and provided him with a space to stop falling and lie unconscious.

The final casualty was the Englishman’s arse. He (in the midst the shock of thinking the Indian was dead, pain and a sudden loss of balance) fell down in the still close-to-boiling hot mess of lamb curry.

There was a study done by a social physiologist which argued that the larger a crowd is, the less willing it is to help when it witnesses distress. This comes from the idea that humans find it easier to except individual responsibility than to except responsibility as humankind. Perhaps it is for this reason that, for a while, nothing happened. People stopped, looked confused, and slowly moved on. It was a full two minutes until the Englishman, with some people around him, accepted individual responsibility and phoned for an ambulance. As he started stripping off his clothes, which were still burning him, the man immediately next to him was forced to except his individual responsibility and offer him some of his clothes to wear. The crowd, the wave, their collective force, did nothing. The Buddhist would have smiled.

III

“Ah but do you know why it’s the best lager though?” said Dan, leaning over in his chair and using the neck of his bottle of Estrella Damm to point at the body of Natish’s bottle.

“Nahi hai, no, kyoon hai, why?” mumbled Natish, attempting to break his habit of reverting to a broken Hindi whenever alcohol began to break up his consciousness.

“Because –” Dan the Englishman’s attention was suddenly drawn to a woman’s arse. He then wiggled his fingers and touched his hair, in a nervous twitch, and looked at the table; suddenly ashamed by his inability to focus. Then, he coughed and carried on. All of this took place in just under a second and was barely perceptible from Natish’s broken understanding of the present. “Sorry – had a cough – because they make it with rice.” Natish was suddenly animated by this last word and replied fairly over-enthusiastically in an attempt to compensate for the fact that the alcohol was sending him to sleep.

“Aaaachaa” he almost shouted “Bihari rice yes?” Dan looked belligerent and confused.

“What? No. Well, maybe. Christ I don’t bloody know. Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is – point is – how many other lagers do you know that use rice?” Natish felt cornered by this questioned as, if he was honest, he didn’t know what any of the alcohol he drank was made of. Still, he felt he knew the correct answer to this question.

“None. I don’t know any Dan” and, suddenly gaining a second wind, he stood-up and, almost to the entire bar, declared “that’s brilliant, baaa-hote aacha, three more beers.” Dan tried not to spit out his mouthful of lager in a splurge of laughter.

“Ha – who’s the fucking third one for?” There were tears in Dan’s eyes. There was something about Natish’s drunkenness that was so pantomime yet, at the same time, so completely genuine.

“I don’t bloody know.” Natish slurred as he looked for a person willing to drink a third beer.

“Natish, you are fucking mint you know that? Teek hey!” Dan raised his bottle for a hearty clink with Natish’s but what he received, upon Natish hearing Dan’s attempt at Hindi, was an over-excited hug and an eruption of Hindi from Natish’s lips. Dan couldn’t stop laughing. He tried to speak in between gasps for breath.

“I haven’t – the slightest fucking clue what you’re saying – you bagal beneechode.” If Natish was happy to hear Dan speaking Hindi, then he was even happier to hear him swearing in it.

“And you fuck your sister too you crazy wanker.” Natish almost screamed this last sentence and, in a strange wash of sobriety, Dan’s Englishness returned. It forced him to clear his throat, draw his laughter back down to a chuckle, gesture Natish to sit down and quickly scan the room. He was slightly embarrassed by the whole strange fiasco. To his surprise, however, no-one seemed to care and, in fact, there were people dancing on the table opposite him. Now, he sank further. His crippling Englishness had taken all of the undefinable oomph out of the last few seconds, or so he thought because Natish was already turning around and trying to dance on said table with a group of Catalan twenty-something’s who’s happiness seemed almost contagious. Contagious, that is, to anyone as drunk as they were. Dan decided to diagnose his slump as sleepiness and so addressed the table with an offer that needn’t even be posed as a question in the current context. After a quick head-count, he shouted to the table:

“Seven vodka red-bulls. On me.” The table, inevitably, went into hysterics and everybody followed Dan to the bar.

This evening had come about after the two men had spent some time in hospital together. Twenty minutes after the accident, both men were escorted by ambulance to the emergency ward and, as a result, all responsibilities, stresses, all the forces driving them towards their respective destinations had collapsed under the fact that they were now both hospitalised. Everything would have to wait, everything else now no longer mattered or, rather, it mattered a lot less. No-one was angry at either man for missing deadlines, no-one seemed to care about the money and time that was lost in business. Everybody had to obey by the same social rules and, because of the fairly serious nature of both of their injuries, could only say that they were “glad they’re both alright”. No-one was allowed to mention anything else; society had written these laws and these laws had to be obeyed. Dan’s wife had even called and sounded genuinely concerned. In the context of his injuries, even their problems managed to seem small. And so, everybody had to wait and, as they waited, Dan and Natish became friends.

Their beds were aligned next to each other and, after a while, they began to talk. At first, it was small. But their respective personalities did not allow small talk to stay small for long. This, it seemed, and the accident or act of fate that helped them collide were the reasons behind their relationship. After checking out from hospital and getting on with their respective lives, the two kept in contact. Dan’s deal with the franchisee now meant that he was an unemployed multi-millionaire whilst Natish’s had gone from strength to strength. It was now four months since their collision, the summer was cooling off and, as the sun began to set in their bar, so did the day.

They’d both had a day off, Natish because it was Saturday and Dan because he was still wallowing in the aimlessness of his temporary retirement, and so had decided to make a day out of drinking. It had started off with a morning coffee and late breakfast in a quiet café which, this being Barcelona, also sold good beer. It then become a lunch in a restaurant which, this being Barcelona, sold great wine. This was then followed by a cigallo, carajillo or an Irish coffee depending on whether you were Catalan, Spanish or English speaking. After an hour of after dinner conversation where the two pretended they were sober they found themselves in a bar full of young people ready to abandon the foreplay of food and simply drink the day away. They had learnt a lot about each other already but the one thing that they were about to learn about each other today was that they were both complete alcoholics.

Two hours after the vodka red-bull fiasco, Natish found himself with his arm around two Catalan girls in line for a nightclub. Dan, with white powder around his nose, was reminding him animatedly that they had stashed their two bottles of whiskey next to a bin.

“So you don’t need to buy any drink – never need to buy any drink – because I’m here – here man, right here – for you to buy you drinks. I’ve got the cash, you’ve got the charm – I promise this ain’t charity – I just like your style – your style man – show us your dance moves. Yes. Dance Natish. Go on my son.” Dan had gotten everybody excited, using his strange charm, and Natish was now dancing trying to pick up a third wind. Still, five minutes later, Dan could see Natish lagging and so, being a friend, he offered him a line of cocaine.

Half an hour later and Natish and Dan were screaming and flailing their arms about, covered in neon paint, on top of the stage in Razzmatazz with a group of scantily clad men and women dancing behind them.

Three hours later Natish and Dan were beside the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya drinking their stashed whiskey. The sun was rising, the Catalan women had gone and neither man had any recollection of what had happened. Sobriety was like the sun slowly dawning and bringing darkened corners of their minds and memories back into a steadily blueing light. At first the experience would be faint and pleasant but, after a few hours, the heat and intensity of the burning azure would begin to amplify their inevitable hangovers. Dan looked at the sky and prayed for the day to be a cold one, possibly even a rainy one, but the firmament was too pure and beautiful to allow that possibility.

“Looks like another 30 degree day Natish.” Dan said as he stared forward, slowly deflating his puffed up cheeks with a long blow.

“My head is throbbing.”

“That’d be the cocaine Natish. I’m sorry about that by the way. It was stupid of me to do it. And even more stupid of me to make you do it.” Dan didn’t really believe what he was saying, but the force of social protocol was upon him. He had offered his friend drugs and drugs were bad. Yet he knew full well that, under similar circumstances, he’d do the exact same thing again. Still, he saw his friend was suffering, and so he offered to help. He held the whiskey bottle and shook it as he looked at Natish. Natish didn’t respond and so, even though he felt that his gesturing was clear enough, Dan made the offer clearer.

“Whiskey?” but Natish was still unresponsive and so Dan felt the need to explain. “Cocaine is a stimulant. Right now your head is throbbing because you’re too stimulated. Well, alcohol’s a depressant so it should slow things right down. Have a bit.”

“My head is throbbing. I didn’t say it was bad.”

“So it’s good?”

“Yes.”

“Why?” Dan would have liked to have put this misunderstanding down to the fact that Natish was speaking a second language but he was starting to realise that Natish had something on his mind. Four months of a steadily improving restaurant business in Europe had quickly and dramatically improved his English. Now, he wanted to be the one who was being listened too.

“It’s throbbing because I’m thinking. Not bad. It’s good. Thinking is not a bad thing. Thinking is never a bad thing. We live for 100 years, if we’re lucky. That’s nothing. Nothing Dan. One day in Brahma’s life is over 4 billion of our human years. We cannot think too much in this world. Not when we are so lost. We have so much to think about.”

“Who the fuck is Brahma?”

“Brahma is the fucking creator. He’s one of my most important Gods. I have to listen to you talk about the world’s best lager. But you know nothing about me. All you want to do is get me drunk. And I do. I go to your temples, your bars, and do your ceremonies, drinking shots. But would you ever go near a Hindu temple?”

“I might if you bloody asked. Natish, I didn’t force you out here. You chose to do this.”

“Is there any real choice? Aren’t we forced to do everything?”

“Oh sod this – ” Dan started to walk away. However, he then turned; the confused Natish, he felt, deserved an explanation. “Look, if you’re going to get all philosophical then I’m going home.”

“This isn’t philosophy. I’m talking about forces, being forced and forcing people. Physics Dan. Everything is physical. Everything can be explained. Either with religion, or science, or a million other things. Everything can be explained, and everything is real. But it’s too real Dan. There are too many forces. There are too many forces pushing too many ways, and wanting too many things, and when that happens, nothing happens. Having too much force, going in every direction, is the same as having no force at all.”

“I – I literally have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“We won Dan. We had all these problems with money, with my business, and your business and – and then we won. And now, is that it? Are we celebrating? Are we done? Because new problems will come. Because there’s always pushing, there are always these forces – ”

“Natish.” Dan interrupted. He was exasperated just listening but he replied as calmly as he could. “What are you trying to say?”

“I’m lost Dan. You’re lost too. We’re all lost and we’re not moving anywhere. And even if we did move anywhere, where would we move? When compared with Brahma, everything we do is unimportant. So what should we do? Should we do anything? And why?”

“I couldn’t tell you. I’m not Hindu.”

“But you do know that the universe is terrifying and larger than human understanding. You know that. Your science tells you it and – ” Natish’s English failed him. He couldn’t translate what he was trying to say “you feel it.” But Dan was distracted. He noticed someone staring at them and smiling. He didn’t know whether he felt welcomed, afraid or insulted. The cocaine still swimming through his bloodstream, he decided on insulted.

“Hey.” He couldn’t think of anything to say. He wasn’t sure whether he had the man’s attention or what exactly the man had done wrong, but he was staring. He was staring and he continued to stare. “Hey, fuck off.” The man continued to stare and Dan had no ultimatum but to continue his threat. He began walking to the man when Natish spoke.

“Wait. Dan. I know him.” Natish waved to the Buddhist, the Buddhist did not wave back. He simply stood and smiled.

“How do you know him?”

“He works in my restaurant.”

“That sociopath? He works with you?”

“Yeah.” Now Natish was smiling too. The Buddhist’s understanding seemed contagious. Yet Dan seemed to resist it. Dan needed to question and to probe.

“Why is he here Natish?” Natish simply smiled.

“Because we are here too.”