Shades of the same flower.

flowerAs I get older some memories are familiar friends recalled everyday; others pop up out of the blue but are as vivid as the first time they are experienced.

Hector is one such find memory. Hector lived at the end of the street in an area called Old Trafford on the out skirts of central Manchester. Thorpe street, to be exact was the road my grandparents also lived on. Every Sunday I would hop on the back of my Dad’s Honda 70 motorcycle and travel the short distance to Thorpe Street.

Hector was afro carribean and he was my mate. Every Sunday in those long hot baking summer’s we would play cricket in the road. A plank for a bat and sticks for a wicket we would reenact the epic battles of games played between the giants England vs West indies. Whilst rain often stopped play at that famous ground such a short distance away, our only interference was the occasional passing traffic. Hector’ s skin was a different colour to my own. I had heard about racism but never gave it much thought. Probably didnt understand what it meant. Hector was different to me but that was it. I didnt think I was better or worse than him and he felt the same about me. We were pals. Hector had an unique talent of being able to turn his eye lids inside out. He knew I hated it but he never batted an eye lid despite his ability to do so.

My grandmother was a proud welsh woman and certainly the matriarch of my family. She always desribed Hector’s family as from the other side of the street. In this modern age you would say she was being racist. But she was stating a fact in the first instance and more deeply recognising that Hector’s family were from a different culture. Like myself she never thought we were better than them. All the more remarkable for a woman that was born in 1899.

To me racists fall into two camps. Those who are raised to hold such views and those who decide to hold such views. Ignorance and fear usually fuel the latter.

Thankfully my grandmother whilst stern was loving. Hector’s family eventually moved away and I never knew what became of him but he has a place in my memories and if im honest my heart because he was my friend.

Move on 20 years. I find myself in the middle east. A professional photographer and seconded to the countries airforce, I photographed the yearly passing out parade. One white face in a crowd of twenty thousand local people. I felt alone, on my one and definitely a minority of one. The King of that country beckoned me forward and smiled as he allowed me to take his photograph. He was far more relaxed than I was. Body guards clothed in national dress clearly carrying sub machine guns. They viewed me with suspicious eyes and I wondered if the flash from my camera would result in the untimely death of myself. Obviously it didnt and I was treated with nothing but respect and dignity.

Lets turn the clock on a few years more. I was a police officer. Teamed up with my acting sergeant (a british asian) and I was young in service. Due to abstractions and sickness we doubled up constantly over a period of six months. We trusted each other, hell I lent him my Black and Decker workmate bench (still not got it back.)

One night we were sat outside a local night club in the section van. Various drunks came and went until one young white male decided that we were his taxi for the night. Despite repeated refusals I could see what was coming. “COME ON P**K* GIVE US A LIFT. ” If there is a world record for exiting a van, arresting an individual and placing him in the secure cage then I bet my Sergeant and myself are joint holders. The young man I’m sure didn’t mean to be racist and is probably not racist but in his drunken state he attacked the weakest point. We as human beings seem to be very good at that!

My final recollection a few years ago, all of which are true involves the one day cricket match at Headingly, Leeds. England vs Pakistan. Getting tickets for the last days play, My then young son (an opening bowler for his team and still is) and myself had no say in which stand we were allocated. We walked to our seats. Its fair to say we were in down town Islamabad.

The stand was rammed with Pakistani supporters regaled with large Pakistani flags. It wasnt long before we struck up a conversation we an elderly pakistani gentleman and his extended family. My son talked cricket with him and I confided that my favourite batsman was Mohemmedd Yousaf. The smile of that gentleman’s face was a picture and he shared his families meal with us both. Neither could I refuse and I also knew that I would insult the gentleman if I did. What beautiful food. Then it happened. The crowd, slowly and in hushed tones started chatting Paki. The chant became very strong very quickly. I sat in my seat and squirmed at that term. Yet the crowd merely were using it as an abbreviation for the team they followed. I thought of the irony and placed myself back outside that night club with my acting sergeant. (I believe we still hold the world record!)

Whether black or white or whatever colour you happen to be inbetween we are all shades of the same flower.

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