Stephen Kelman; Pigeon English – More like Broken English and broken spirits

Well I have read Stephen Kelman’s book – Pigeon English and noticed that it has been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize.  Maybe I’m just a jealous frustrated writer or maybe I need to get real and see some of the themes he writes about of my community instead of me trying to write the decent things that do exist in places like Tottenham.  But instead, this is a book that even before you get to the end you know damn well there is not going to be good ending.

Pigeon English is about a young boy who arrives from Ghana settles in an estate that could be Broadwater Farm; a story which features black Brit-on-black African crime, a story that makes you think about the murder of Damilola Taylor, a story which makes you think what it is to be young and black in modern day London. A story about parents/adults who are not engaged with the kids.

I guess my usual moan is what would a white middle aged man know about black youth?  Okay, so the author grew up in a council estate but does that mean he has understanding of what it is like to be black/Ghanaian?  It almost seems as if there is an idiot’s guide to black people that is available somewhere that writers of a different race and colour can imagine and write what they think it must be like to be black! I wonder if I could get away with as much.

But my really biggest moan is the ending. How dare Kelman conclude the story in such a way which suggests that for the black/ethnic youth there is no hope? The actions of the looters in the recent riots in England, already tell us that a lot of the youth are not engaged in their environments so I don’t think it helps to have literature that affirms that. Instead, the book could show how overcoming ‘adversity builds character,and character in turn builds hope’.  I just wonder if a young person from a certain background were supposed to read this book, if they wouldn’t find it despondent, because I certainly did.

 

41 Days after the Tottenham Riot: the day of Mark Duggan’s funeral.

I made my way to the post office this morning so that I could use the cash machine.  It must have about 10.00am.  The weather was quite cloudy and yet it was warm.  There was an eerie quietness: the usually packed launderette was empty, the post office was empty and corner shop that sold burgers and kebab was still closed.

This was written 21 days after the riot. Note the building in the background

As I joined the queue and waited to withdraw the cash, I overheard an elderly woman standing across the road at the junction where Mount Pleasant Road meets The Avenue waiting for the W4 bus. She said she had waited for more than thirty minutes for a bus, and now she was sure it wasn’t coming because of the funeral…

Was today the funeral I asked myself.  As soon as I withdrew the cash, I asked a passerby if the funeral was taking place today.  He said yes, then checked his watch and added that around 11.00am the cortege would pass through The Avenue then onto the High road. Instead of turning to go back to the house, I walked toward the burger and kebab shop and noticed people waiting outside the corner shop on the opposite side; I turned left into the avenue and my attention was focused on the young dread who shouted out at a group of photographers, asking to show ‘respec’.  As I got closer to them, they were chatting and smiling, totally disconnected to the surroundings but they stopped, placed their equipment into their vehicles and left. I continued walking to Broadwater Farm.  It was ominously quiet except for some people dressed in black heading perhaps to Duggan’s family home.  More cars were moving up and down the street, the drivers stopping for half a second chat with each other and then were on their way.

After a while I left.  I had to finish packing my suitcase for my journey to Nigeria. Whilst I was in London, a bomb went off in the UN building in Abuja killing 23 people and injuring many other. The Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram claimed responsibility.  Prior to leaving Nigeria in July, the police headquarters also in Abuja was hit by a bomb. Both buildings are not too far away from my office.  As one Nigerian woman joked which will it be, Boko Haram or the riots in England.  Is there anywhere, in the world, that is safe?