My editor required that I write a personal account of my experiences of racism. I was not enthusiastic. Slightly stunned, I left the office in Victoria rolling the camera back to a once-upon-a-time period. For it is nearly 40 years since I landed at Southampton on the SS Antilles, thence to Waterloo and later Forest Hill, where I slept in a strange bed for the first time in my life.
Camera rolling, I made my way to Holborn, falling victim to the Tube service which bypassed Holborn that day. I got off at Tottenham Court Road and waited for a bus. The 242 came along and although it was one of those one-man buses, a conductor posed on board. Politely I asked, "Is this going to Holborn?" His reply was brutally sharp: "Why didn't you take the bus in front? That's going to Holborn as well."
Slightly irritated by the round-and-round-the- mulberry-bush nature of my journey, I told him that was not what I asked. It was a short journey, but as I got off I told him: "When you are wearing that uniform be certain to respect the public." "Fuck off you black cunt," he said. He was chewing a sandwich at the time, and bits of masticated food flew across his ugly face. A mass of brown curls sat uneasily on his head, the size of a football.
I huffed and puffed. I felt like . . . I felt like . . . I wanted to bite out chunks of his throat. Destroy him, the bus, the driver, the passengers in it, too. I had a gut feeling that this was a reaction to Stephen Lawrence. There was this stench of decay about him which I could recognise. It spelt blood and mayhem. He was much smaller than I, obese, unable to handle me physically in a thousand years. Yet he kept coming forward, hand in pocket. A knife I thought, cold steel perhaps, when the driver drew him back.
Just like 20 years ago. Enoch Powell had made another of his bilious interventions. That day I had taken my eldest daughter to Lord's, a one-day international between England and the West Indies, who unleashed Joel Garner for the first time in England. He bowled magnificently as I remember. I saw her off at the end of the game and was returning to Brixton via Notting Hill. I bought my ticket and made my way to the exit point. I found the newly installed automatic entry gates kind of unusual. I explained this to the ticket-collector, who jabbed me in the stomach and pushed me in the direction of the automatic gates, muttering "you black bastard". I faked with a right and got in a sweet left hook thereafter. He grabbed the rails to prevent himself from collapsing. A passenger in a pin-stripe suit, white, and who turned out to be a barrister, struck me over the head with his brolly, never once inquiring as to the right and wrong of the issue. I was much younger then, beautifully fit and I enjoyed them both. The police were called, I was charged, tried at Knightsbridge Crown Court, found guilty and sentenced to three months' imprisonment. After a great amount of international agitation, I was allowed an appeal in record time. One week. And set free.
There were many such experiences over the years which could have culminated in a kind of Stephen Lawrence disaster. And for every one of those, scores of English men and women were, and continue to be, the essence of politeness and kindness.
There were moments of stop and search too numerous to mention. Some months ago, on a summer's evening, a Pakistani friend, the organiser of the ethnic minority media awards, visited my home to discuss my presentation of the evening's ceremonies at the Dorchester. We were off to have a curry and as we drove along Brixton Road, Bobby could see a police vehicle in his rear-view mirror. They are going to stop us, he said. He just knew it. They did not fail him. Siren blasting and light blinking, Bobby pulled over. The usual ritual. I asked why they stopped us. Their reply was pure tittle-tattle. We had lingered at a green traffic light, so they presumed we were lost.
I got a little pompous and warned them that their boss, Simon Foy, the divisional commander, would not appreciate what they had done. "Fuck Simon Foy," came the reply. Racist? Perhaps. But more precisely, anti-racist racist.