Diran Adebayo
The Map of Love, by Ahdaf Soueif

(The Guardian’)

Ahdaf Soueif has gained a strong reputation from previous novels for the delicacy with which she traces lines between East and West. In books such as ‘In The Eye Of The Sun’ she has placed her characters against post-colonial landscapes to illuminate both. ‘The Map of Love’ covers some familiar terrain, but here she meets with only limited success.

The novel traces the unfolding of two cross-cultural romances, a century apart, involving the Baroudis, a powerful, high-born Egyptian family…

Soueif’s intent is to show how the “feel and smell of the past wraps itself” around present-day lives, and so Amal goes through the trunk, discovers their blood link, and the correspondences between Isabel’s and Anna’s encounters with the Orient grow; current Egyptian issues, of national recovery, the difficulties facing the ‘fellah’ peasant class, and Arab-Jewish relations, are also foreshadowed in the concerns of a century ago; while such issues continue to take their toll on individual lives and aspirations, the only fruits that endure, the novel suggests, are those of love.

Unfortunately the amplification that Soueif is seeking through these counterpoints is rarely achieved and this is largely because her concerns are not sufficently worked through the fates of her characters, particularly the present-day ones…

Baaba Maal – Africa Remix
April ’05

A top evening all round was had at Senegalese crooner Baaba Maal’s concert at the South Bank, London, the other day, followed by a session at this great little naija (Nigerian) shebeen of a bar, ‘Emukay’, on Walworth Road. (A new discovery – love those! Plus khaki – palm wine mixed with guinness – discovery number two).

The boy Baaba, his band, the dancers – smokin’. I came out on a proper high, with new flesh on old thoughts – how, in most all African music, for instance, there’s no anger in the sound unlike, say, rock – but had my fire doused ever so slightly, firstly by a comment from fellow attendee Ben Okri who, I’m sure he won’t mind me saying, having complimented the band for its customarily smooth, slick Francophone offering, opined that the drumming wasn’t as varied and as adventurous as we might have heard from a Naija ensemble. Then my friend ‘Lola, picking up on the dancers – these two women who really killed it, any number of high energy moves, the whole diaspora in there – reckonned that their style bore the scent of African-American dance school; American proteges satisfying western expectations of ‘free and wild’ African dances, rather than a less freaky, authentic thing. Given that the concert was inspired by the ‘Africa Remix’ exhibition, which is itself at least partly about showing, in Baaba’s words, that Africa is not a continent apart, but one closely involved in the world, a moot point at the best of times was mooter still… 

If mootness is your bag, come to the Africa ’05 related events I’m putting together for the British Museum this summer (May-September). There’ll be all sorts of goodies – mixed media nights (music, oral storytelling etc) + panel discussions eg ‘Who gets to speak for Africa?’ Great guests – check ‘Forthcoming Attractions’ here, or click on the British Museum’s or The Booktrust’s website in ‘links’ for further details.

In Memoriam:
 Saul Bellow 1915-2005 (see ‘Writers I seriously rate in ‘Likes’ in ‘about me’) and Yvonne Vera (1964- 2005, just 40!). Damn, what a year it’s been already for writers. That’s four down (Bellow, Vera, Hunter S Thompson, Arthur Miller) who are now never gonna read my shit…
Fragments – Bombs – Ashes – Reminisce
Summer ’05

‘Fragments! Any sort of fragments.’
Novelist G. Infante Cabrera, on being asked his favourite sort of reading.

1) The grisly London connoisseurship of the 07/07 bombers: The fact that the Kings Cross-Russell Square tube bomber chose to place his device in the front carriage. Any north London-Picadilly Line veteran knows that the front carriage is where you want to be for swiftest access to most of the connecting lines at Kings X. You also want to be there if you’re getting off at the next stop , Russell Square, cos that’s the nearest carriage for the lifts there. In other words, that front carriage is especially packed around those stations, something the bomber no doubt took into account. Man, that’s dark.

2) Isn’t the Italian lawyer for the Brit-Ethiopian bomb suspect fighting extradition hot, though? A tad hotter, I would venture, than our own (estimable) Gareth Pierce, solicitor for the Brazilian De Menezes’ family. Italia strikes again for the aesthetes amongst us…

3) Various shivers/ echoes during the bomb thing…On the day itself, ‘cos I was about to head off to this residency I’m doing at the British Museum, and would have used either that tube or the 30 bus (also blown up) to get there. Then discovering that a cousin of mine was on a neighbouring bus to the one that blew, and that a friend of friends had been killed…So, definitely felt that ‘there but for the grace of God’ feeling. Not truly the shiver of death, personally, but something akin. Five times I’ve properly felt that shiver – three underwater (I can’t swim), and twice in cars. And I’ve gotta tell you, if you’ve never felt it, that, truly, your life does flash before you. You’re told it, and it’s true.

4)Everything is true. (Things I’ve learnt #4). There’s a bunch of things that you hear or you’re told or you suspect, say,as a child – that committees are boring, that status/ money gets you laid etc – and, in my experience, every last thing you were told is true. Trust me, I’ve ‘tested’ all these things out and, sad to say, worse to see, the world runs on predictable lines. Urgh! Surprise me, why don’t you? The wasted time… Refund, please!

5) Bombs, Identity: there’s been a lot of sound and fury in the media, on the back of the fact that that the bombers and would-be bombers were British-born or raised, about Ist/ 2nd generation immigrants and loyalty to Britain, fifth columns, voluntary, ‘self-inflicted’ apartheid/ ghettos and blah. Some ‘Guardian’ calls that we should take an American approach and actively promote/ embed patriotism in newer arrivals (don’t think so), and Tory bigwigs, including their leader Michael Howard, recommending that ‘Multiculturalism’ be killed off, and newer Britons instead be encouraged to embrace Britishness/ British values, such as ‘tolerance and fair play…’ (Ho hum).

So all this – how much loyalty do you need to Britain not to be a ‘bad’un, essentially, and related matters – on my mind. Some thoughts:

a) (Integration #1). A recent survey finds that, though Britons generally believe that ‘multiculturalism’ is a good thing, they believe minorities should integrate more…. What! – Not the same Britons who, in their stints in foreign countries spend their time, drink in hand, in the expat clubs, in their little enclaves, not learning the lingo? Not those ones, surely…. 
NB: On the few occasions when I have been in a truly diverse, private gathering in this country (not so many actually – three hands, maybe), the host/ prime mover has always been an ‘ethnic’ (to use a word wrongly)

b) ‘Multiculturalism should be killed off…’ I’m sorry, but when was it ever alive? ‘Multiculturalism’ in the sense of folk of different races, religions, living around each other has been around for a while now, likewise ‘multiculturalism’ as a piece of approved officialese by which a body can get funding for some project and stitch its separate and unequal place in the nation’s cultural fabric, but ‘multiculturalism’ in a more vital and useful sense, as a key driver in forging a wiser, healthier people/ society from the varied informations and perspectives of its many – well, I barely think we’ve started.

c) As it happens, the striking thing, as anyone who knows many young black or Asian Britons will tell you, is just how British/ Western most are. Cars, credit, consumerism and football have done their work… 

For the diminishing others, this matter (though not even the key matter, I think, for the bombs – see below) remains as it has been for a while… If you do want everybody to be mainstream, to be British with a big B, well, okay, but British on what terms exactly? What are you offering me, honey? Peace, so to speak, with honour? How big is your big Britain, precisely? Truly bigger than its forbear? Truly?…

[Best media counter to the ‘why can’t you all be [our version of ] British? plaint: (said by an Asian Briton – didn’t catch his name – on BBC World Service radio): ‘Just because you’re born in a barn doesn’t make you a horse.’ Ouch!]

The mainstream – how can I put it? The air is different. If you know other, you may feel it whiffs a bit.

d) The mainstream – Britain with a big B. 

i) Education (or, Black with a big B)
When I was studying at British schools in the eighties, African children, ie children of African immigrants, were at the top of the tree academically. For a number of years, we bested every other ethnic group – whites, Asians etc. But now Africans have plummetted in the annual education statistics, so far that now we are at the bottom, jostling with some others. Now some of this will be to do with differences in the class of more recent African arrivals and their reasons for coming, but it is surely partly to do with the growing mainstream Britishness of these African-descended kids. The more that they have seen themselves simply as British and black-British, the more they have become creatures of a wider western black popular culture and a British urban schools-system, neither of which are geared to educational excellence. Sometimes, some inner resistance to how your peers or the generality wish to define you can be helpful (eg, if you’re black, don’t think of yourself as ‘middle-class’ or ‘working-class/ street’, both of which may involve in ‘authenticity’ issues, why not see youself as immigrant-class. The air there is easier. More things are allowed. And you will work hard…)

ii) Moments in the industry # 1…

…Uh, I was gonna hit you with a couple of trendy, so-called progressive Channel 4 anecdotes – pointers to where I think the big B mainstream is at now, but another time (remind me) ‘cos not strictly relevant here, because I don’t think the bombs were anything really to do with ‘loyalty to Britain’ . You don’t need to love Britain to believe that killing its or anybody else’s random civilians is wrong. Unless they are all psychopaths – and I don’t suppose they are – the only reason I can imagine propelling people though such actions is that they believe they are serving a greater good. The battle against such people can only be won by fighting on that terrain; by challenging that notion.

Jan ’06

That time of year – resolutions and what have you. My plan this year is the same as it’s been the last five – no more Mr Nice Guy. Every morning, when I wake, I repeat those words these words to myself: ‘It’s a cold universe. No more Mr Nice…’ etc. I find it works well initially. I can be quite a grumpy one of a morning anyway, and there is a real steeliness about me that first hour. Then is the time to make those ‘more money’ business calls, to send some ruth-free emails, to do the ‘talk to my agent’ kind of numbers. Only I don’t care to spend that early energy and focus on ‘admin’ – I’d prefer to use it to write. And, unfortunately, by the time I’ve rinsed a few tunes, and read a few pages from certain favoured authors to get me into that ‘joy of art’ frame that I like to write in, I’m in quite a jolly way, my ‘Man of Steel’ quite forgotten. These are the dangerous hours – definitely not the time to answer the phone, or I’ll be saying, ‘Yes, Yes, Yes’, sans haggle, to every last request.

Ah, so it goes. La folie des grandeurs … 

One other resolution. Time to declare war, to go on the offensive against the New Health that’s been running things too long. All those aggressively-smug little water carriers etc, conforming the world to their bland specifications. Urgh! Smoking, reading (which, these days, feels pretty illegal too) and one other vice I haven’t decided on – that’s my new dates-policy. You’ve gotta have at least two of the three if you’re gonna tempt this one…


I’ve spoken/ written a bit about this 200th anniversary year elsewhere – see ‘Slavery – Q and A‘ in the ‘Articles section’ for fuller thoughts and the text to a short ‘testimonial speech given at the Brtitish Museum – but, for here, just a couple of things…

One, being of direct African descent whose family were not involved in the trade, either as victims or abettors, slavery was never a part of my story, and as such , I do feel that those UK black folk who are descended from the Americas should have main ‘dibs’ on this matter. Having said that, we are all global Africans and therefore should all have an interest in this issue, not least because its legacies continue to affect relations between us (til now, there are no direct flights, and so little economic business, between Africa and the Caribbean. A bit strange, no?)

Secondly, what a glorious opportunity this year presented for our licence-fee BBC to film SI Martin’s delightful, rumbunctious novel ‘Incomparable World‘. This book is set in the little-known sizeable black-British London community of the 1780s, its numbers enhanced by ex-slaves from the Americas who won their freedom often by fighting for the British in the American War of Independence. You have white and black Covent Garden low-life in there, a la Hogarth, walk-on parts for famous black historical figures of that time, the Equianos and the Ignatius Sanchos, with sharp, character portraits from the time, as it were. Rather than all these white benefactor lovefests, like the Wilberforce ‘Amazing Grace‘ (or ‘Amazing Disgrace’, as it’s being called. I had to say no to the pre-screening of that, when I saw the cast list), here was a chance to present something about this period where black people were fully-rounded human beings, and to give some great parts to black actors. But no, the lazy, ignorant, liberals in our TV and Filmland probably haven’t even heard of it.

Thirdly, I do recall that in the mid 90s there was a move, in certain UK Black circles, to try to start an ‘African Remembrance Day’, in which the commemoration of slavery would feature. But various people said, ‘Oh, slavery’s old hat. Why bring that up?’ and the Day never got off the ground. But as soon as it became clear last year that Blair and the Queen were going to be involved in this whole abolition business, these same folk rushed to get in there, which leads me to my main point. It would be the biggest travesty, the most dishonouring slur, if this year has white – white charity, blacks’ desire to make an impression on powerful whites – at its core rather than black. So many of us living in the West still have white people at or near the centre of our beings, our head space, something that I guess began with slavery and really needs to change if we are to regain full psychic health and ease of being. We have ease of walk, a lot of us, but not true ease of being.

To give an example of what I mean: I was appearing on a certain TV show a while back, and a prominent black personality was also on the show. At one point, the white presenter asked me, ‘what does the black community think of such-and-such?’ and, after trying to undermine the notion of a monolithic community, I answered the question as frankly and truthfully as I could, as I always do. After the show, this black person was angry with me for saying whatever things I’d said to a white person and a mainly white TV audience. ‘You Africans, ‘ this person said, ‘you’re so naive about white people. We’ve been dealing with them for 500 years…’ You hear this kind of talk a lot from so-called radical, but actually deeply white-minded blackheads, the same ones who are irked with me for calling this site ‘the blessed monkey’. I explain elsewhere on this site why I call it that but suffice it say that I only remembered years after I first decided to ‘brand’ my affairs with this name that ‘Monkey!’ was an epithet some whites use on black folk. Now was I going to change a long-cherished idea because of what some eight year-old kid once said to me on the playground, or what some other person I probably don’t respect might think? Of course not.

Ease of being, please. You should have yourself at your own centre, not even black, and certainly not white. Not least because we owe it to some others who never had the chance. It’s about time.

You Tube (Forced Smoking)
‘We talk about law: batty law and smoke law. How can batty be legal and smoke illegal, enh? How can man sex man an’ ladyboy up there and the police dem nah interfere, but still police come an’ start wit’ we. What kind of state we livin’ in?…’ 
Diran Adebayo, ‘My Once Upon A Time’.

Ah, there was a time, there was a time…Back in the later nineties when I first got this thing – the internet – what a joy it seemed. In particular, the concept of the search engine. I must confess almost the first thing I did was type in the name of a certain delectable American actress – let us call her JA. In those times she was only known to us early spotters, by dint of her appearance on a couple of no-rating TV shows, and the hits for her numbered not many. I checked out the fan site and chat was thick there about the projects folk wanted to see her cast in, and how these directors didn’t understand her. She was even known to visit the chatroom back then, logging in under a pseudonym and floating views in her cheeky, fetchingly post-modern way. 

But then she had a couple of bootylicious breakthrough movie roles, and now everyone with an eye on such things knows about JA. Her Google count is in the zillions and what was once a tasteful connoisseurs’ circle has been buried under so much ‘latest hollywood-hottie’ nastiness from the Leery-Come-Latelies that the originals have long fled the scene.

As with JA, so with ‘Youtube’. I first came across ‘Youtube’ a year ago courtesy of the smoking-fetish sites (the nearer smoking has got to illegality, the more it’s become a Fetish-ful area). People would post alerts, ‘Great cafe scene – two Prague girls in boots and Sobranies – go to You Tube…,’ and I’d be thinking, ‘What is this Youtube?’ So I logged on and, man, it was great. In particular I loved all these ‘forced smoking’ videos they had. Some evian-drinking jogger, or some weights-lifting health-club nut, would be pounced on, dragged off and forced to smoke. These vids were hilarious. But as it emerged last autumn that ‘Youtube’ would be being shortly taken over by ‘Google’, speculation grew in the, ah, Extreme Smoking community as to what this might mean for our favourite films. I opined that it would likely only be the uploaders of TV copright material that would have to watch their backs, but wiser heads were less sanguine.

And sure enough, for a number of months now, we have typed in the names of the ‘Forced’ auteurs, only to be greeted by that doomy red line: ‘This user account is suspended’.

Why? We can only imagine one of two things. One – ‘violence’ to women or to men (hardly seems likely, given these vids are so clearly not ‘real’). The other and, I submit, likelier possibility, is that someone high up at ‘Google’ is an avid, evangelical, anti-smoker.

Bizarre, because I do notice that various possibly even more controversial minority tastes remain amply catered for on ‘Youtube’. From crossdresser- and tranny-action to a whole heap of rather singular man-on-man business. That’s all cool , but smoking – hell, no.

Once can only sympathise with my character Hope in ‘My Once Upon A Time’, whose (slightly amended) words I quote above, and hope that Daily Motion, where many of said auteurs have fled, proves more simpatico.
Words, Words…
So, I had to do this UK radio show, the ‘Today’ programme recently – during that whole “Big Brother-Shilpa ‘Race’ row – and I was chuffed that day to realise another ambition. You know how you have your major ambitions – Nobel prize, world domination, blah, blah, and your minor ones – visiting every continent, sleeping with someone from every continent, and – a writer’s one this – having a scholarly essay written about your work whose title has a colon in the middle (“From roots to routes: Images of journey in Diran Adebayo’s ‘Some Kind of Black'” … Loved that.) Well, I’ve a long-time nursed a couple of minor media ambitions. The first was to write for every national newspaper in the country (accomplished, bar ‘The Sun’ and ‘The Star’ and those two will be hard). The other was to be appearing on some radio or TV show, and to drop a little Latin into the mix – a subject I’d loved as a child. You’re chatting about something, and out would drop a deft ‘…ad hominem’, in would slip a sly ‘…sui generis’ or, best of all, my father’s favourite – ‘mutadis mutandis’.

So the ‘Today’ guy calls the evening before, as is their custom, and I’m chatting to him about what I might say on this matter and very quickly, in my ruminations, I see my chance, a gift-horse opportunity… ‘Yes,’ I said excitedly, ‘I’ll do it’.

He rings off and I pick up my dictionary, to confirm the meaning and pronounciation of one ‘pace'(for ‘pace’ it is). Being something of a traditionalist in these matters, I’m a ‘hard c’ man, but I did see that my glossy, new ‘Encarta’ dictionary was promoting the rather controversial modern trend in this dead language of a ‘soft c’. I rolled this around my tongue, I tossed a coin. Okay, let’s ‘parchay’.

More worryingly, I could see, now that I’d refreshed myself on its meaning, that to use the word in the manner I intended (“Pace Blair’s talk about Britain being a tolerant society that welcomes difference, this “Big Brother” has shown the UK to be a less benign animal…”) was looking less a gifthorse and more a crowbar. And, of course, to use a poncey word wrongly would be extremely not good. Oh, I paced a while away, to ‘pace’ or not to ‘pace’. In the end, I decided to go for it. The usage was just about okay, you don’t know when the chance will present itself again, plus this year I’m all about action, about doing, rather than drafting and filing away.

So, you write down your three points that you’re definitely going to make, and five others you’ll say if you have time and, if you’re like me – with three moody alarm clocks, and only one definitely-working but rarely-heard mobile alarm to wake you up at 6am – you don’t sleep. The cab guy comes – an old Naija familiar, but a new Bentley (thanks for that! The Beeb pay you peanuts, but you do get a nice ride) and drops me and I’m pleased to see that Jim Naughtie is the presenter/ interviewer. Naughtie is a man I have seen present Opera on the box; a man, I feel, that will appreciate a little nod to the classics. My moment comes and Naughtie turns to me, and I parchayed away, and I did detect a little, happy, gleam in his eye…I Bentleyed back, took out ye olde eighties filofax, and ticked another one, finally, off the list.

All of which preamble is to say something about the joy of words. Especially poignant now as, in western black popular culture at any rate, we are in a very unvocal, unarticulating, adolescent period. There’s nothing like hearing a good, rarely-heard word properly used. The good word is often as good a guide to the truth or otherwise of the speaker as any – so easy to cover emotions not truly or deeply felt in verbal banality. It’s just a little bit of creativity that anyone can do. My faves are a common word used with a now rare meaning (like ‘passion’ for suffering), or hearing a word used in conversation that I’ve hitherto only seen written down. The other day, at this Arts Council board meeting, our Chair, Christopher Frayling, with a verbal felicity not shared by many knights of the realm, said, ‘Look, I don’t think we should get too dirigiste about this…” Ahh! A little warm something went through me and my respect for the man – already healthy given his pioneering study of my man Sergio Leone and spaghetti westerns – rose a notch. Dirigiste – I’d never heard that before.

And this is one of the reasons why slang is so great. I was having a little debate recently with some friends about the recentish importation of the phrase, ‘My bad!’ to mean ‘Sorry’, courtesy of our American friends. My friends were a bit down on this development, for a couple of reasons, me not at all. I welcome it. The phrase has the virtue of being ‘right’ – if English had to come up with a new phrase for ‘Sorry’ , it could not do more accurately than ‘My bad!’ One of those phrases that does exactly what it says on the tin, and a hell of a lot quicker than ‘Entshuldigen Sie, bitte‘. And also, as a bonus, there is a pleasant echo of ‘mea culpa‘ in there, which brings us back, funny thing, to Latin…
Sport England

Less sexy

Another couple of dismal football performances from England’s ‘Golden Generation’ (ho-ho!) against Israel and Andorra the other week. No surprise there. In thirty-five years of avid sports-watching, bar a few games in Euro ’96, I cannot think of one England football team that has looked like world-beaters/ world contenders, still less – and this goes across all team sports – an England team that is attractive to watch; that plays what Surinamese-Dutch maestro Ruud Gullit liked to call ‘sexy football’, the type that my club team the mighty Spurs have been famous for for over a century. Only in England could a sportsman like rugby player Jonny Wilkinson, a guy adept only in the most prosaic parts of his profession – tackling and kicking a dead ball – be accorded the status of national hero. As French rugby coach Bernard Laporte said so eloquently before the 2003 World Cup semi-final, ‘No-one carries the English in their hearts’.

If you believe, as many do, that national character, national aspirations, comes through in countries’ sporting teams, then the long history of Sport England tells you that this is a country where mediocrity is celebrated; one that likes, nay fetishises hard work – that Protestant mindset again – but has little regard for flair or rigour. Any fule, with a schoolboy level of physics, could tell you that the key to success in most ball games (and, indeed, in chess) is force, space and time, and the manipulation of these. But because the vast majority of English football players are so lacking in touch and passing ability, they constantly lose out on these last two. Just look at the Dutch, a country that has had to think very seriously about the best use of limited space – given that most of the country is under water – and how creatively successive generations have played (Bergkamp, Cruyff etc)

Right now, there is the usual BS in the newspapers about the English Premier League being the best in the world, on account of three English sides making the semi-finals of the Champions League. Don’t make me laugh. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Faroe Islands – population, 10 – had a higher general quality than the Premier League. What England has are five good club teams, and most of these stuffed with foreigners – Spurs, Arsenal (the blackest Euro club team since Ajax’ great mid 90s team), Man U, Liverpool and that little Fulham-offshoot who I can’t stand who think they’re a big club but can only muster about a thousand supporters for away games. The other fifteen are mediocre or worse. They just hoof the ball about. The League is popular because it’s exciting; there are lots of goal chances because neither side can keep posession for longer than thirty seconds. That, plus the fact that there’s untold money in the game here which means big glamorous ‘stars’. In terms of money against real quality, the Premier League, along with the art market, are the two biggest scams in the world.

For any aesthete, anyone sensitive to the potential beauty of a sport, watching England play anything is an excruciating experience.There are only three things that can save Sport England. One, improve the education system. Intelligence helps in everything (just compare, say, Scottish football players to English players in a post-match interview, never mind the continentals, and you’ll know what I’m talking about). Two, stuff the England sides with recently-arrived immigrants (where would the English cricket team be now without Kevin ‘too many blacks in South Africa’ Pietersen?). The third is a proper cultural Reformation.

In the meantime, let us pray for the Windies in the World Cup cricket. Arh! – too late already.


‘What, dost thou think because thou art virtuous there should be no more cakes and ale?’Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Two things have left me flabbergasted this century. The first was the invasion of the diminishing ‘threat’ that was Iraq. The second, right now, is this ban on smoking announced by the UK government last year, and due to come in force this July. As of then, you will not be able to smoke in any bar, public place, or even private club in England.

I am so agitated, so dispirited about this thing, this mean-spirited, philosophically-stinky piece of social engineering, this outrageous step for a ‘free’ society, I can barely keep it together to write. I’ve started and stopped this enough times already. So saddened too by the fact that this piss-poor government will get away with it – there is enough social approval, and, vitally, middle-class social approval, for this move. I predict a non-riot. Confirmed that today when I quizzed a group of university creative writing students about it – couldn’t believe – well, I could – the amount of support for it, and seeming indifference to/ ignorance of its wider implications If the more open-minded of the younger generation can’t see it, hunh, the game is truly up.

I tell you, this is a dealbreaker, a country-leaver. But where to, the growing problem, where to? Fuck me, the twenty-first century.

I blame the Protestants, number one. I detect their dark hand all over this. Four centuries ago we kicked out the most pleasure-hating section of that pleasure-doubting crew, the Puritans, packed them off to found (pretty much) white northern America, where they banned drums and music-making among their slaves, then liquor, for everybody, and currently ensure that Americans get a mere two weeks holiday a year. But all the while, another strain of them was growing in England – the Puritan-influenced Methodists. They were partly behind the founding of the British Labour party in the late nineteenth century, and the Temperance and missionary movements of those years. These cats liked nothing better than going to visit their ‘lowers’ – be it the British working-classes or the darker races, and saying: ‘You shouldn’t be believing/ drinking that, you’ve got to believe / drink this…’. I know – my Mum’s family were converted Methodists. Both Blair and Bush big Protestants. Urgh! – give me a Catholic, at least.

Let no one doubt that this law is a piece of arrant moral condescension. The powers have their notion of what a ‘good’, well-lived life is, and they have decided to force their notion on other people by punishing those who don’t agree with them, thus trampling on a principle that has been enshrined in liberal societies since JS Mill’s time: namely, that adults are allowed to risk harm to themselves should they consent to it (hence contact sport etc) It would have been perfectly possible, of course for the powers to allow a compromise system that was largely non-smoking, but where certain bars or sections that catered to the still-sizeable minority that puff was permitted. You would have found plenty of bar staff – smokers and non-carers – happy to work there, perhaps for a little extra, and plenty of their employers delighted to pay that extra. We’ve sent men to the moon, devised the internet, we know about ventilation, I think it would have been possible, no? The fact that they haven’t allowed this tells you all you need to know about the self-righteousness, the intolerance, and the lack of empathy of these people.

Most folk do jobs that they don’t want to do, that isn’t their ‘dream’, for fifty years; they pay their taxes, they don’t have much money, then they die. If some of these want to unwind after a dreamless day, in a bar, with a drink and a smoke, amongst consenting adults, away from home where the stress often is, or the debts are, or the potentially passively-affected children, God forbid, if some of these want to unwind in their long-legitimate way, then allow it, for God’s sake, allow it. What is your problem? Is there some new law that’s come in that says that everyone has to live every last minute of life that they possibly can? (There probably is, actually. I am reliably informed that this government has brought in 3,000 new offences into the statute book. Not including this new law that’s coming whereby children with some family history of criminal behaviour can have some ‘preemptive’ order slapped on them aged 11. Soon, you’re gonna be banned before you’ve even begun…It just seems that all we’re allowed to do these days is to buy credit and buy houses. Anyone with some other aspiration is made to feel like a c**t.)

Look, most people do want to live as long as possible. So the fact that they’re prepared to jeapordize the fulfilment of that wish long after the age of cool by persisting in this expensive, dangerous habit tells you they are deriving some serious benefits from it. People are’nt stupid. In my case – yes I do smoke, mildly, but I promise you my line on this matter wouldn’t deviate whether I did or not – I use smoking mainly as an aid in my work, as do many in adrenalin-related activities. At certain points in my writing day, smoking seems to help my thinking. There are, as Sherlock Holmes once noted, three-pipe problems.. Clearly something psychological plus, no doubt, oral going on too, but, hey, it’s worked for me, better than gum or lollipops, for twenty-five years. I have to weigh up the (mathematically not-high) probability of cancer or heart disease down the road against the certainty of my present work – the rhythm and way of it – being affected should I quit. It’s a no-brainer. As part of that rhythm, I sometimes feel the need to change my location, go for a walk, chew over some thoughts, and ‘exit’ said thoughts in a quiet, warm-enough cafe or bar, over a smoke. But now part of that innocuous little range of options is denied me, anywhere.

Just because you can’t X-Ray stress-relief or work benefits or pleasure like you can a malignant lung doesn’t make them any less true. But at one stroke this law has killed off the concept of both a a good work-out and a good night out – be it a casino, a cognac, and a fat Cuban between the lips – my preferred, or whatever’s your fancy – for millions of people. Cheers.

Can people not see how excessive this seems, when it could have been worked out?

Okay, enough with the ugly part of this post. No bother even going into the stack of legal philosophers who would point to you why this is an ill law (and Blair read Law at the same place I did. He should know), or how this is yet another coup for the New Health (see posts passim), and has a lot to do with this growing culture of offence, and entitlement (folk feeling that their sense of offence should be the motor, the source from which everything else should flow). Let me finish with this final jab: have you noticed just how many people there are who never had the balls to live their own dream – went for the job in accountancy, and the mortgage and the security – but are still insistent that everyone else must live every last minute that they possibly can? As someone once said, life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but rather by the moments that take your breath away.

So, what to do? Number one, we have to do what we can to ensure that it all stops here. No further (the powers are clearly already preparing the way to outlaw smoking outright within a generation). Two, we must lobby, we must agitate, we must vote with the only language they care for, our wallets, and boycott these new bar rules ( an informed friend of mine, recently returned from business in new, smoke-free Ireland, tells me that Guinness are already bemoaning their losses). Most crucially, we must organise – indeed a bunch of us already are. Details currently sketchy, but anyone like-minded is urged to get in touch. We are ruling nothing out (well, some things, obviously). For starters, I’m making a general request for anyone with any smoking-related trivia – great screen smoking moments, forty-a-day footballers – to send me the info. It has been mooted that, in these role model-minded times – unh!, don’t get me started on that bull – we set up a ‘Smoking Awards that, in time, may rival, the Oscars or Baftas in profile and prestige. I’ll kick things off with a few nominations: click here for the Smoking Awards.

Some thoughts on Barack, the African in him, and ‘Post-black’

Oh Barack. Dear, dear Barack. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

Number one, you’re a smoker! It seemed barely credible, in these days of the New Health and with that practice now barely legal, that one of ours could regain the world’s most powerful office. You, in your twenty-two month great adventure, have proved yourself the most inspiring cigs-man since football’s Johann Cruyff. I thought of you as a pair of young women from my local estate accosted me by the newsagent’s last weekend and asked me to do them a favour. ‘Puff on these,” I eased my conscience, as I handed over the goods, “and you may become Barack one day.”

Smoking is not important, but I read it as a sign, along with the other evidence – your one time dabblings with drugs, your lingering relationships with radical former tutors, your poker-playing, your liking of hip-hop and that clever, nuanced TV show ‘The Wire’, that you are, basically, a hip, ‘down’, college boy, a type that many millions around the globe get and have no problem with. You’re at the slightly naughtier end of that set, to be sure – you are, in Jimi Hendrix’s phrase ‘experienced’, but that, as regards your role-model prospects, is even better. For too long, the minority-thick, poorer communities of this hemisphere have been swayed by the entertainers, by the street-educators of Rap’s capitalist classes, by the streets of many of their lives; now there is blatantly another way, also achievable, also solvent, also cool enough. You, your college-professor self and your equally-qualified, wife, buttressed no doubt by the added authenticity that a country with a long-time sizeable black middle-class furnishes you, and that the rest of us in the west can only envy, have dramatically raised the relevance and the leadership-potential for us black intellectuals, black ‘elites’. Now, both street and scholar have one excuse less.

I like you too because, though I’ve had many issues with your party down the years (not least with the one you’re most often compared to, John F-didn’t have the-balls-to-invite friend Sammy Davis Jnr to his inauguration-Kennedy), as I have with your nearest equivalents on our side of the pond, I’ve always rather it was your lot than the others. I fancy I’ll welcome your foreign policy more than I did the Iraq-bombing Bush, indeed more than I did the last Democratic incumbent, the Somalia-bombing,Rwanda-avoiding Clinton. There seems to be a hope, as you’lll know, in some parts of the world that you will be somehow President-for Africa, President-for-the-south: I do not expect that – you have to be America’s President and act in its interests, but I do expect more, because you are, as I say, experienced.

Experience, inexperience. Funny things …Some years ago, at one of our big literary festivals, Hay-on-Wye, I had the pleasure of meeting one of your literary ‘greats’, the late New Yorker Norman Mailer. Across a crowded ‘Green Room’, our eyes met, as they will when one is the author of ‘The White Negro’ and the other is the only black in the house. So, we spoke and although, I’m embarassed again to say I don’t recall so much of it – Suzanne Vega wafted across and I quite wanted her autograph – we did chat about New York and I remember leaving with the distinct impresion that I – for all his New York talk down all these years – may have seen more of that city than he because I had seen all his bits – the Village, the upper East side, but he had seen little of some of mine – the Flatbush Avenues, the Fort Greenes, the Bed-Stuys. That black is so often discussed as if it’s ‘less’ when in fact, especially, I guess, at the elite end, it tends to be more.

You have that moreness in spades, and that counts for so much in a country as insular and as ethnically segregated as your own. With Hawaii, Indonesia, black and white America and, crucially, Africa, you have a fair chunk of the world in you. The Africa is key because it is likely to give you, in the many racially-accented matters you will face, a difference in spirit.

We Africans seem to have a milder take on these things. Hard to say why it might be, except the fact that our relationship with European masters was much briefer than the hundreds of years for which black peoples were subjugated in the Americas, during slavery, the plantations, and after. Our cultural practices were less disrupted, our mass entry to the West more recent, less traumatised on the whole. I’m sure you’ve noticed that subtle but clear difference between say, an African-American gathering and an Africans-in-America one, as I have between a British Caribbean- gathering and a Brit-African- one; between, dare I say it, you and your African-American wife whose still burning upset was apparent when she said that now, for the first time in her adult life, she was proud of her country. There is a deeper ease of spirit amongst Africans of direct descent. I’ve increasingly suspected that it would take an African or a biracial person, these who could to some degree stand outside the heavy history of the Americas, to see beyond, and make white America relax sufficiently for the game-changing breakthrough. And it does fit so sweetly; the African returning to America, but this time not in a slave hold; now the captain of the ship.

That you have ‘got beyond’ is a tribute to your vision and to what I really, really like about you. that you are the first person to execute a near-perfect ‘post-black’ campaign and, in so doing, solve the disconnect that has long plagued minorities and the coalitions they have forged in the west.

Here is the problem: whites, as your campaign has proved beyond doubt, don’t like race, but we do. They don’t fully ‘get’ race, and this is particularly true in countries like mine which, unlike yours, was not founded on race. Many western whites do not even see themselves most of the time as being part of a ‘race’, their race being the norm. For them, race is something that happens to other people and when it does, it is something they feel embarassed or threatened by or defensive about or uncomfortable with, or wary of or weary of or impatient with, and this is just as true among the progressive whites with whom we have done most of our dealings. The left love racism, my God, how they love racism – the great proportion of black stories that get attention or get commissioned are to do with or reduced to racism, the one black story they can examine themselves in – but they don’t truly respect race; they see it, the stuff that still has to be done because of it, as second-rate, parochial, temporary, something that all bright, right-minded people surely wish to get beyond, so we can all be happy, hanging together and having children who look a bit like you. Blame it on a commitment, to the universality of man, I guess, plus their tendancy, in concert with certain one-note blacks, to always problematize race, but for most black people, race is only a problem when it’s racism. The rest of the time, race and what goes with it is fine. It’s is normal, they understand, for human beings to bond and racial-cultural bonding, is one of the ways, in which we do it. Race, for minorities, is mainly about resources. Race is what has allowed a bunch of newly arrived, mainly illegal Nigerian and Congolese immigrants to find haven and a job at my north London barbers, One of them would have had a cousin who worked there, and so he comes first cap in hand, and soon the word spreads to his countrymen and then to fellow Africans. Race and culture what accounts for that shared-secret smile at that black party, a hundred strong , when some rare groove tune comes on that their parents had and that didn’t make the charts Race is what has made 90+ percent of African-Americans who turned out Tuesday vote for you. Race is true.

In our post-Civil Rights, post-Windrush period, when racism can no longer be relied upon to be the ring to bind us all, this disconnect is now impacting in-house. We have the emergence of our own black middle-class, still a relative sprinkle, but many of them feel they’re doing perfectly well thank you, and race-as-problem has proved no hindrance in their careers; who feel that racial calls are the refuge of the weaker ones, though race may have fasttracked them, as it may have you. Or some like me who, in various journeys through lands like yours and mine, hasn’t seen the amount of racism he might have expected to if certain stories were true, and so was not surprised at the scale of your victory yesterday; who has seen, if anything, racial suspicion, usually diffused when people meet and discover other matters to connect through. Still others who are blacks-in-Britain but not part of a black community they perceive as being too race-minded. And running beneath, the coming thing, certainly in our neck of the woods – a nineties/ noughties generation, less ideological, more materially-driven, more ‘post-racial’ in aspiration. One more inclined to believe they can have it all in a Leona Lewis-X-Factor, Olympics, inclusive Britain kind of way, just as this big Britain has begun to turn the screws on what it expects from its newer arrivals. Witness the numerous attacks we’ve been having these last few years, stepped up since our 07/ 07, from central government, from Trevor Phillips at the Equalities and Human Rights Commmision, to this year’s UK Defence Report, on the dangers and failures of multiculturalism, on the need for a revitalised, more enforced sense of Britishness. It is seductive, this velvet-glove-in- toughish-fist offer, not least because the alternative – our established, Civil-Rights-filtered black British-approach, despite certain hype to the contrary, still seems a thing that is failing too many; the many black youth underachieving at school, the many black actors and directors still getting rusty on British film sets (not). The answer, the likeliest route though all these camps, all with their claims to legitimacy, could only be ‘Post-Black’: in my Britain-oriented conception (because Britain seemed most where it was needed), an acknowledgement that the race-centric methods and philosophy we’ve employed for doing black culture since the Windrush have had their time, and the search for more viable alternatives and strategies that still have a progressive, pro-black agenda.

I have been talking up ‘Post-black’ for a while now, and I have to say nothing I’ve ever broached over many years of public fora raises the hackles of black audiences quicker. It’s because they assume I mean ‘post-racial’, some neutered, ‘sellout’ thing (proof, if any were needed that, notwithstanding our own youth-tendancies, the ‘post-racial’ lens through which white commentators have seen you has been largely yet another race matter in which whites are interrogating their own hopes and fears). But it’s not post-racial or even post-black really, I explain, just post-this black, this present way of doing things. Our new approach has to be more layered, has to speak to people who want to hear different things. Layered in the way that yours was a campaign of majority-targetted words, and quieter signs.

No, not post-racial, not just a one-stop-shop. Better, newer than that – that much has been clear by the choices you’ve made, the church you attended (and which person of colour did not know someone, after 9-11, who said, like Reverend Wright, that these were America’s chickens coming home to roost?), and that wonderful speech on race you then had need to give. You’re more this sweeping line in the sand. A hundred years ago, your African-American forbear WEB Du Bois said that the problem of race, ‘the colour line’, would define the 20th century. The 21st century’s equivalent, for black westerners at least, will be the line dividing those who are race-centric and those who aren’t.

This Post-Black era, now you’ve finally got it up and running, will bring richer dividends, wider reach, without doubt, to black artists, entrepreneurs and politicians alike, certainly on our less-race battered, and less black-populated side of the pond. It will mean some re-focus of energies, a change in some of the debates we get engaged in. If Britain is more averse now to a certain kind of black identity, to fleshen out just one possibility, then why not put ourselves at the forefront of the citizenship debates that are currently of so much import to old and new Europe? After all, us black Britons, with our newer, particular take on citizenship, should have much to offer here that’s useful to new others, or old ones remaking themselves.. I feel a film coming on: a Pole , a black Briton and a Romany, a wry , hunam comedy; funds from the big paymaster that is the European Union… New coalitions, new self-identifications. 
Any winning idea to win through must have both economic and charismatic or ‘dignity’ appeal. You with your charisma, the reasonableness that shines through you, and, darn it, all that power, are the poster-boy we’ve been looking for.

I put a bet on you, Barack, a while back at the start of your grand adventure, at lovely long odds, to do the Double – the Democratic nomination then the presidency. I only collected, you see, if both came through. So what can I say, bro? You’ve not only done this mighty thing you’ve done, you’ve solved a quiet, little, credit crunch too!

Luv ya, 

(c) Diran Adebayo 2008
* Diran’s short story, ‘P is for Post-black’ is in the collection, ‘Underwords: The Hidden City’ (Maia Press).