And peace on earth
The brave traveller who tries to make his
way across the hills which mercifully separate Darwen from Blackburn
and keep the thieves of Darwen away from the burglars of Blackburn, and
vice versa, may haply come across the obscure village of Rossenham,
hidden in a narrow valley, with its picturesque church, its ancient pub
('The Cock and Bull'), a barber, a grocer's, no post office, and only
one long line of terrace houses, inhabited by the families of 79 goras,
18 Muslims, 1 Bajan, 1 Nigerian prince, 3 Hindus, 2 Sikhs and 1
militant atheist, who spends his weekends in the pub, holding forth in
front of a crowd of 78 goras and 1 renegade Muslim that Jesus was not
born in Bethlehem (not the least among the cities of Juda) and that in
fact he wasn't born anywhere at all and is as legendary or historical
as Little Red Riding Hood, and threatens with eternal damnation all who
do not accept this as gospel truth.
One of the sights of Rossenham, a relic from the times when it
was still a thriving mill-town and even once produced a poet ('The
Rossenham Poet', as she is known to the world), is its police station,
still manned by 7 officers, 8 more than this sleepy village needs, for
all its citizens live very peacefully side by side and don't care much
about what Usama gets up to or what happens in Haiti, or in Kashmir, or
in Sri Lanka, or Northern Ireland, or Sudan, or Rwanda, or Palestine,
or Bosnia, or Ukraine, or London ('Where is that?'), or at whose
fireplace the Home Secretary (Whatsisname?) warms himself from October
to April. They keep theirselves to theirselves, love or hate their
neighbours wherever they come from (like their Father which is in
heaven and maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and
sendeth rain, in Blackburn and Rossenham especially rain, on the just
and on the unjust alike) and duly ignore whatever spiteful things their
respective gods tell them in their holy scriptures.
'We ain't here to serve God,' one of them declared, 'God is
here to serve us, and if he does the job he is paid for, we will have
Now the thing with the
overstaffed police station of Rossenham was this. The Home Secretary
had been so busy for many years, what with his private life and
spreading joy, and with computer systems breaking down or never
starting to work in the first place, and an avalanche of passport
applications, and armies of bogus asylum seekers and benefit scroungers
invading this country ('a menace greater than Hitler', the man, blinded
by prejudice, is rumoured to have said), and to crown it all Mrs Sadam
Hussain and Mrs Usama bint Laden applying for political asylum, - he
had simply forgotten to close down Rossenham Police Station when he
axed so many others in the country side, and the people of Rossenham
had seen no reason to remind him.
When our weary traveller arrives in the Cock and Bull, he will
first be questioned for news from the outside world. Then he will hear
the story of the quarrel between Kevin and his neighbour, Sheikh
Shahabuddin lives in a small
terrace house, where he runs a Social Club for elderly Muslims. One day
Kevin bought a caravan, which he uses for only two weeks in the year,
during which he goes holidaying in Padiham.
Shahabuddin is not a literary man, he is a bit greedy, a bit
stupid, his English is rudimentary (except that he understands swearing
when he hears it and can give as good as he gets), and he is not good
at writing letters or filling in application forms.
So he employs a part-time assistant,
Aisha, to do his paperwork. Aisha does not hold him in high regard. She
doesn't call him a bit stupid, she just calls him stupid, she thinks he
is lazy ('Why does he have to sit in front of my face from morning to
night? Hasn't he got anything better to do?'), and she strongly
suspects him of fiddling his accounts and the charitable funds for
which she has to apply on his behalf.
On her good days she calls him an IBM, which is Egyptian for
'Idiot Bastard Mummyfucker' - 'cos he is dead boring', as she explains
with an apologetic smile as if butter couldn't melt in her mouth.
When the neighbour started parking his caravan outside
Shahabuddin's bay window, completely blocking his view, she had to
write innumerable useless letters: to the police, to the council, to
half a dozen solicitors, to the mosque, to the church, to the
Then he had this street brawl with Kevin. He called the
police. The police arrived at 12.00 noon the following day. Shahabuddin
sent them away. 'You were supposed to come at 10, now it is 12, you
have to learn to be punctual. We said 10 o'clock English time, not 10
o'clock Indian time. I am too busy to wait for you all day long, go
home and make another appointment', he told them and sat down to
continue staring at Aisha for the rest of the afternoon.
He was furious: 'Write a letter of complaint to the police.'
Aisha felt that he was in the wrong and
wrote a constrained letter requesting another appointment.
'That letter is no good: I want you to write an angry letter,
real angry, English angry. Tell them how lazy and useless they are.'
'You don't want to start
jihad because of one ignorant kafir: Have a sip of Qibla Cola and think
of something holy and peaceful, that will make you feel better. Is it
not written ...,' said she, but Shahabuddin let fly a profanity which
was so unholy that it would make even a Spaniard blush, or so Aisha
She phoned a friend for advice.
'If you write an angry letter, he will get into trouble.'
'I want him to get into trouble.'
So Aisha wrote an angry letter. 'That's what he wants, so
that's what he gets.'
'This is a very important letter,' she said to Shahabuddin.
'It must be perfect. Otherwise the police won't see how angry you are
and how much they have hurt you. I must take it home and get it checked
by a native English speaker to make sure it is really angry. Tomorrow
you can sign it and post it.'
So it came to pass that this letter was written, Shahabuddin
knew that it had been double-checked, read it, approved of it and
signed it, and it was posted.
It is now one of the prized possessions of Rossenham's police.
Our traveller is taken from the pub to the
old police station, where the seven officers sit, talk, smoke, drink
tea, play darts and watch the porn channel on the telly, and there on
the south wall, under glass, is the letter, the only letter ever
received by this station.
Centre for the Support of the Aged, the Crippled and the Insane
786 Corporation Street, Rossenham, Lancashire, BB13 8SU
7 Dec 2004
Dear Mister Policeman,
I have this neighbour and he parks his caravan
permanently outside my window so that I cannot get any sunlight. Then
he harrasses me and our clients. Yesterday he even came and started
swearing at us.
This is very upsetting for me and my elderly clients,
because they aren't used to swearing and don't even swear when they
pour boiling water over their hands or hit their thumb with a hammer or
drop the baby; and the baby wouldn't swear either, not even when it is
dead: it is too stupid for swearing. But the old people don't swear
because God don't like it.
And English swearing is much worse than Urdu swearing
and has only four letters to do it with, and our old people don't like
to hear such language at all. They get enough of it from their own
children, so why should my neighbour add to their distress? You tell me
They are all very upset and deeply offended, and I am
upset and angry too. I could strangle this here neighbour, but I won't
do it because it's against the law. So you have to do it for me, that's
what you are their for.
So yesterday I phoned the police station, and you
promised to send someome over here and sort him out good and proper,
but you didn't, did you? That makes me even more angry.
Where is your sense of responsibility? You don't want
any murder or ethnic cleansing to start in this street. It is the
English who do the cleansing because it mustn't be ethnic.
I want you to come over here and swear at him for me,
because if I swear he doesn't understand it so it doesn't hurt his
black heart, so you have to do it for me.
This neighbour man is very wicked and needs to be
stopped, and you are so powerful, you are the one to stop him.
So please hurry over here quickly and impose the Queen's
law on this wicked neighbour, or else I would not be responsible for
whatever happens to me.
And don't let me down a second time, otherwise I might
feel like swearing at you, and you wouldn't like that, would you?
Your devoted citizen and friend,
When this letter arrived at the police
station, the seven officers marched to 786 Corporation Street like one
man and invited Kevin and Shahabuddin to celebrate his literary
The two warring neighbours could not resist this temptation,
especially at Christmas time, Kevin had a pint of Thwaites, but
Shahabuddin, who is a god-fearing man and only fiddles the accounts
when Allah is not looking, contented himself with a bottle of Mecca
Cola(TM) ('Ne buvez plus idiot, buvez engagé!' as it says on
That happened on Christmas Eve. Kevin began to like his
Shahabuddin, and especially enjoyed the innumerable jokes that are told
about him (a drink together can work wonders, even if it isn't a Double
'Et in terra pax,' twittered the sparrers perched on top of
the caravan, 'wa salam salam shalom', admonished a voice from heaven,
and they flapped their tiny wings in adoration.
Kevin parked his caravan in front of Paddy's house across the
road and now has a good old feud going with him. He doesn't like the
Irish and thinks they are fair game.
Paddy is trying to get Aisha to write some letters for him, to
the police, to the council, to half a dozen solicitors, to the mosque,
to the church, to the newspapers, etc. He thinks she has brains. She
has acquired quite a reputation in Corporation Street, for kindness,
impartiality and a sense of humour. She is loved by all communities.
She has had her share of joys and troubles, but loves the absurdities
which life throws at her. 'Life is so funny,' she says when yet another
misfortune befalls her, 'it could make you cry'.
She was never invited to the celebration at the Police
Station. 'Women have no brains and no morals: they should stay at home,
wear their hijab and never meddle in men's affairs,' says Shahabuddin,
and Kevin wishes English women too would live by these sensible maxims,
'stands to reason, dunnit?' 'Muslims are not as stupid as they look,'
he said, and affectionately slapped his new-found friend Shahabuddin on
the shoulder. Here was something they could agree on.
In February Shahabuddin went for a long
holiday in his village in Panjab. He invited Kevin to follow him in his
caravan. He has a beautiful niece who wants an English passport, and
Kevin wants an obedient wife. 'You can't say no fairer than that, can
Kevin is ready to leave the moment he receives his transit
visa for Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. He must be looking for trouble. If
not en route, he'll find it in Panjab.
'And how is the police in England?' asked Shahabuddin's
'Not too bad, not bad at all,' said Shahabuddin.
'They have framed me,' he added triumphantly.
Copyright © 2004 by Klaus Bung
(NOT for publication)
Notes for translators
Copyright © 2004 by Klaus Bung