The Oldham riots of May 2001 have branded the town. You'd think from the way they're remembered- from the way Khalid remembers them- that the whole place was in flames. In fact they were highly localised- confined to one or two streets. We live less than a mile from the epicentre and all we heard or saw was the police helicopter chugging overhead.
Oldham does have a problem with race. It simmers under. The Asian communities had been harassed and taunted and put upon for decades and finally the anger boiled over. No-one was seriously hurt, a few cars were burned, the police got a smacking they almost certainly deserved, the windows of one or two racist pubs were put in- and notice had been served that things had to change. I've always thought the rioters deserved our thanks.
Here- because it's Remembrance Sunday- are four poems I wrote in the first months of the Afghan War. Jeez, it's over nine years since that first bombing raid, and we're still fighting.
A TELEVISED WAR
Afghanistan is bigger than France
And what’s not mountain is mostly desert
And all those parts which used to be gardens-
Islamic gardens with piped in water
That leapt and hung in the air- are wrecked.
Once when I thought of Afghanistan-
If I ever did- I thought of the poems
That Kipling wrote about dead British soldiers.
Now I educate myself
By clicking my way through the RAWA website.
There I learn all sorts of things.
For instance that the Arab youths
Who are fighting there as volunteers
Are told that there’s a blessing for them
In killing the enemies of the Faith
And so they squabble among themselves
For the honour of joining the firing squad
Whenever their gang takes over a village.
Yesterday it was Molly’s birthday.
Her jolly mother had hung balloons
All along the hedge. It was good to be spending
An afternoon without TV-
And it wasn’t until we got home at night
That we learned that the Taliban had been bombed
As promised. Rumsfeld talked to the press
While an inset screen at the top right
Which was labelled “live from Afghanistan”
Displayed a field of blue fuzziness
With a single light that winked on and off.
Today we saw what the strike had achieved.
Some men were stood on a caved-in house
And one of them lowered himself to his haunches
And threw up a handful of silvery dust.
A ginger kid at the back of the bus,
Takes stock of Osama’s photograph-
“Oo, he’s got a Nokia...”
Then rolls the tabloid paper up
And smacks his older sister with it
“Inside-a Bin Liner, Inside-a Bin Liner.”
Well it kinda cheered me up-
As earlier the coffee did
The FREE expresso at Waterstones
Last night we bombed the Red Cross compound
And burned a warehouse (We? They?)
Inside-a Bin Liner. Inside-a Bin Liner.
THE FALL OF KABUL
All of this has happened before.
Here come the happy conquerors.
Most of the bullets go up in the air
But some get lodged in foreigners.
These are the guys they really hate-
The holy, freaking Arab boys.
They string them up from telegraph poles
And rake them with Kalashnikovs.
And music’s back. The hidden tapes
Come out and ancient pop songs bounce
Round buildings war has hollowed out .
Kabul is down and these have won-
Big oil- they’ll get their pipeline now
And barbers- they have customers
And women- they can shuck their robes
And feel the sunlight on their skin.
Is easy come
When you wire yourself up
As a walking bomb
Well, easier than when you’re numbed
By night after night of daisy cutters....
How sad to see at the end of the year
All those unnerved, unmartyred young men
With their big black eyes and their no longer scary,
Black beards being marched with cuffs and gibes
From the fortress no-one was meant to take,
Which Osama fled from and Allah abandoned.....
I fail. You fail. He fails.
And some were shot and some were stifled,
Most of them out of sight of the cameras,
And some will go now to die in prison,
No more valued than rangy, mangy,
Scavenger dogs. Guiliani wants
The American Taliban soldier, John Walker
Had up before a drum-head court
And shot for being so very confused
That he chose his religion above his country.
I fail. You fail. He fails.
Khalid was here most of the day- and we now have lights downstairs.