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TRUE BRITS

by Vinay Patel

Vinay Patel 4 Wedgwood House, Lambeth, London, SE11 6LJ 07870 313 854 Vinayskpatel@gmail.com

Characters Rahul, twenty-six in 2012. Well spoken. Seventeen in 2003. Estuary accent.

"Ultimately, Britishness is about Britons. It grows and evolves from the bottom up. It can never be defined by one motto or one politician, but by millions of individuals whose identity is the product of many ingredients. " - David Cameron "Love for one's country is part of faith." - Prophet Mohammed "This I would say, standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone." - Edith Cavell

True Brits 2012. Rahul, 27, walks on. This and all 2012 sections, marked with a dashed line, explicitly addresses the audience. Rahul So. Did you enjoy the Olympics? I did, even though I only got to see the handball which is a child's game. A hundred and fifty goals in two matches who ever thought that goals - the most exciting concept in sport - could get so bloody dull. My sister was ill so I took my Dad with me, I want to make an effort with him, but I knew he wouldn't really get it. I tried to explain, "Look, Dad, it's basically pauper's lacrosse", but he didn't understand lacrosse either, so that little gem was lost on him. I was quite pleased with it though, so I Tweeted it when I went to the loo. Our tickets were to see Team GB and the Copper Box was buzzing. I mean, we were getting absolutely tonked by Sweden who, it turns out, are quite handy at handball, but it didn't matter. Loud voices, painted faces, flags flying, oh you couldn't not love it, not want to join in. That is, unless of course, you're my dad. He sits there, cross armed, telling me that while all this flag waving is wonderful, nothing's really different, nothing's changed, he says that he'd read that there were only two British Asians in the whole squad. I tell him that doesn't seem very likely, he's probably got that wrong, but anyway he's too hung up on the fractions. We're not trying to mix a cocktail, for Christ's sake, are we? I think you'd agree with that. If it's a useful frame of reference, my upbringing was quite a lot like The Land Before Time, the original, not the sequels - I think there's like fifteen now - but in the original, there's this kid dinosaur who loses his mum and his grandparents look after him. I identified a lot with that little dino, except in my case, my Dad is mostly about and my mum lost her fight to lupus, not an slathering T-Rex. My granddad is a proper dinosaur. Not one of the dead ones, you understand, more like one that's meant to be extinct, but isn't, a living fossil. As a young man he got the chance to come over to London to study, surveying, and he stayed with a nice Jewish family in Golders Green, saw the Festival of Britain and well....that was that. He was hooked after that, pro-Empire and everything. To this day, the man tears up whenever he sees a municipal building, bursts if it's flying the Union Flag. To him, it never had any association with the bad stuff. My grandma though, my Ba, for her the flags flying over Buckingham Palace were the same ones wrapped around the bricks that came through their windows in the early years. I painted my face for the Royal Wedding last year, and I tell you, if she had seen that, she would have 1

True Brits "Those are just thugs. The majority of this country's people are decent, that's their defining characteristic. That's what Orwell says, and he's right." An Englishman from India. My granddad's just like George Orwell, he's the smartest man I know. While I'm at it, let me quickly tell you about the first time I tried pumpkin soup, right, because it's a funny story, and it coincides with the very first time I was racially abused. I was...seven? Maybe eight? And walking through town with my then best mate Rory, stuffing our faces with Flying Saucers - you know, those papery things with the sherbet inside - arguing about whether "Parklife" is a good album or not, which it definitely is. We're waiting to cross at the mini-roundabout when this skinhead, proper military jacket, tough boots bowls past, knocks my Flying Saucers out of my hand, into the road and as he skips across he turns and says to Rory: "I wouldn't hang around with a paki, mate." Now, we both felt that Something Bad had just happened, but you don't really understand abuse when you're a kid, do you? You get that there's a distinction being made - "I'm vanilla, you're chocolate", but it's all still ice cream, you don't scan the venom just yet. Even later there...I mean, there was Mihir from secondary school, the son of one of my Dad's mates, and every lunch time he'd ask, "Wanna go down the chinky chippy?" and I'd just say yeah or no. Mostly no. Nothing flagged up up here that it was wrong, 'cause he said it like it was nothing. Last I heard, he'd moved to Shanghai and married a Chinese girl. Funny that. We decide that the best thing to do was to go to Rory's house, and when we get there we told Rory's mum what had happened. She looks ridden with guilt, maybe because she's a massive Catholic, apologises to me, as if she was responsible for the camaraderie of the entire human race, and says "have some pumpkin soup." These are not words that have comforted any child, ever. I poke at it for a bit, 'cause she was my best mate's mum and while I didn't fully get racism just yet, I knew that you have to be nice to your best mate's mum. "S'abit hot". That won't get me far. She drags a spoonful through the ruddy murk, blows on it and holds it out to me. She's got this demented smile on, watching me close, I think she's going to open up and swallow me whole. I lean forward and slurp it in. "Mmm...!" 2

True Brits It tastes foul, I can't hold it there. It starts to dribble bit by bit out of the side of my mouth and splashes back into the bowl, which I push away, ashamed. I look up at her to apologise. Her face. Bloody hell. She was definitely thinking something racist right then. "Where you from?" Open with a question, not a statement, that's the modern trend. 2005, my first year at uni, we were all off out for a birthday, I'm just chatting to a friend, when I hear it. "Where you from?" You turn and before you can, before you can even blink, their forehead's crashing down onto the bridge of your nose, and the blood's blasted onto your only smart shirt, which you've only just ironed, for fucks sake. Then it just keeps sluicing out like from a slashed juice carton, so you need to find something to stop it up with. Total. Hassle. I mean, what's the point of even bothering to ask "where you from" if they're just gonna nut you before you can reply?! Might as well just get on with it, really. I wish just once they'd wait for the reply. "I'm from London, mate." "Oh, whereabouts?" "South East - near Plumstead." "Oh yeah? Me too." "Small world!" "Yeah!" "Plumstead's a fucking hole, isn't it." "Yeah." Now, I know that's not gonna happen, but you can always still hope for a conversation, can't you? My dream is that my kids will walk down the street, and no one will question, even for a fleeting second if they're English or British, rather - Olympic espirit d'corps - it'll just be. Everyone will just know. "Where you from?" You could hear the anger steaming out from behind his teeth. Bang. I'm still gathering myself together, it doesn't hurt so much as just being disorientating, and one of the girls has got her arm around me to keep me steady, when just down the road, there's a commotion already, 'cause Nathan has got a guy pinned up against a wall. Various threats are flying 3

True Brits around, proper Saturday night stuff, all involving some variant of an "fbomb" going through a "c-bomb". I don't want to say it, you know? It'd be a kill joy, he seems so passionate, and I'm grateful, so it makes me sad to say it but I kinda have to. "Um, that's not him, Nathan". "Oh. You sure?" "Pretty sure, yeah." I think getting punched in the face is actually one of the most useful things than can happen to a bloke. Firstly, you understand that it's not as bad as all that, secondly, you learn that people you don't even know can still hate you, can still want to hurt you. I don't blame them. Always something else behind it, isn't there? Thirdly, you see that there's not a world of difference between a clip around the ear and a boot through your teeth, you got to learn to laugh about it either way. Laugh. Get on with it. There were only two Asians in Team GB. Two. Out of five hundred and forty two. I looked it up, Dad was right. And one of them was called "Neil Taylor". Does that count? He's a footballer too, so not even real Olympics if we're honest. We're the biggest minority in the country, yet there's never been an Asian in the proper English football team. But hey, whose fault is that? That's no one's fault but ours. You know, the very first time I got punched in the face it wasn't even because I was brown, it was because of a girl, and that's the very best reason to get punched in the face. We were partaking in that fine British rite of passage, underage drinking in the park, and it took us half an hour to clock that this girl Jess from the year below wasn't with us anymore. The light was dropping out, and I was the only one still able to see shapes so I volunteer to go find her. Twenty minutes of fruitless traipsing later, I spotted a figure sitting halfway up the climbing net in the playground. Staring at...I don't know. The dark. I was sure it was her because of the hair - she's got this long 4

True Brits jet black hair, her most striking feature, apart from how thin she is. Didn't think you could be that thin. You could get to the net by going around the swings, or through the swings and I chose through the swings, which is a bit thick since there was a group of like five or six there already and well - what sort of person hangs out by the swings after dark? They seemed to ignore me as I slinked past, but just as I think I've made it through, there's an "oi!" "You just pushed passed me." "I didn't." "Fucking did." I don't want this. Just let him win. "Maybe I brushed you." "You're a dickhead, mate." "I completely agree." That throws him. "Say sorry." "Sorry." "Get on your knees and say sorry." His mates are chuckling. The little fucker, he is loving this. "What?" "I said, get on your knees, and say you're sorry." Nope. That's the line there. "Fuck off, you chav." Honestly, it doesn't hurt as much as you think it will. Not the first one anyway. I actually started laughing. Then comes the second. He's got a ring on this hand. That's what this scar here's all about. That one hurt a little bit... I don't hit him back. I don't want to, it feels like I'm better if I can just take it and move on, and I do. Jess blagged a take away bag full of ice from the Wimpy, and when she pressed it to my face, I twitched away and she laughed at me, and I was then laughing at her laughing at me and that's when I first realised that I 5

True Brits quite fancied her. Girls are meant to like scars, aren't they? ------------------------23RD JANUARY 2003 Rahul, 17. As if from a diary. Rahul My sister gives me a lift into town and as I slam the door shut she shouts "Use protection!" and speeds away. I'm not exactly gonna hump Jess Collier on the pool table, am I? I mean, y'know, I wouldn't say no, but that would require an amount of bravado that I don't possess because right now I'm just nervous. First date nervous. So nervous that it appears that I have just said to Jess...what I've just said very loudly, so that the whole pub can hear: "Yeah, I reckon I preferred All Saints to Spice Girls because they were a bit edgier, you know?" Fucking hell. Reigning in that runaway disaster, I swiftly move on to tell her that one of my favourite things to do in public is to try and work out who around me is on a date. And then laugh at them. Nothing brings two people closer together than mocking someone else's cackhanded courtship. Luckily, she's just as voyeuristic as I am, which I think is a good sign, and so we scout around and what I notice right, what I notice straight away...is that there are a lot of people looking at us. Have they clocked that we're a bit young? They already served us. Jess turns to me. "Mate", she whispers. "Think these guys are big on Spice Girls?" I walk her back, and though she's talking and I'm sure it's fascinating, I'm not really paying attention because in my head I'm mapping out how to approach the doorway snog. But I have to shelve the mental blueprints because Jess' dad is waiting in the drive. He doesn't seem angry. In fact, he's smiling. Jess' dad is a councillor, head of racial equality for an area with approximately nine ethnic people in it. Chump role, but he's keen to prove himself so I think he was pretty chuffed when he heard about me. I reach forward to shake his hand. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Collier."

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True Brits "Salaamallahkum." Oof, swing and a miss. Outwardly we share a smile whilst inwardly I'm giving him marks for effort, if not attainment. Jess cringes then tells him where we've been and the smile falls right off his face. "The Coach & Horses? The one down by the miniroundabout?" "Uhuh." "That used to be a National Front pub." Whoops! Still... "Used to be?" "I mean, it's not like they had a sign or any - well, no no, they did have a sign, and they've taken it down now but - " Bless. I like her Dad. She likes her dad. How rare is that?! "It's fine." I tell him. "It's not the 90s, it's not like that anymore, not in the South East of England." He doesn't look convinced. Doesn't matter. The thing to take away from the evening is that at no point did Jess realise I'd taped my Converse together and that means that she was looking at my face more than my shoes, and that is definitely a good sign. ------------------------Odd question this, but do you find whispers as sensual as I do? I think it's an underrated attribute in a partner, and it was my favourite thing about Jess, she was a great whisperer. She had this bassy drawl...it didn't really matter what she was saying, the pleasure was in hearing the sounds undulating through your ear drum, liquifying. Especially when it's in Arabic, I mean she could be telling me her shopping list or declaring a fatwa, but fuck me, it was hot. Oh and please forgive my voice, the accent. Elocution lessons, see? My Dad made me take them, said I was a mumbler, which I didn't think was fair, 'cause I was a bit shy maybe, but not a mumbler. I told him "I sound just like everyone else." He said "Sorry, I didn't hear that, you were mumbling." No, what he actually said was "Just like them is no good. Better. You need to be better." I didn't want to be "better", that's the fast track to being a loner. ------------------------16TH FEBRUARY 2003 7

True Brits Jess tells me that we're going to spend a passionate, unforgettable few hours in Central London. And I think...hotel? Some..."World Cinema" maybe? But instead of us appreciating an exotic bikini line, I'm staring at a banner that says "Make Tea, Not War" and all I can think is: Can't you do both? I wouldn't say I'm a-political, a bit ignorant sure, but - I'm going to put it out there - I don't think a protest march makes... I just don't think a protest march makes for a great second date. "Let's say...Blair is Blur." Jess' condensed history of contemporary British politics. "New Labour - flash, relatively clean, everyone seems to like them. Major's Tories were Oasis - sullen, more honest perhaps, not quite as popular, with a phenomenal instinct for infighting. That leaves the Lib Dems who are...what? Pulp! A little greasy, worshipped by weirdos and you suspect that drugs have had a major influence on their work." She loves Blur as much as I do which, being honest, is probably one of the few things we have in common, but I'm sensing that we both like each other as much as we like Blur, so this could have legs. Even though she hasn't bothered to pre-order "Think Tank". I'm big enough to look past that. "Does that make you a New Labour fan, then?" I ask her. She grins. It's a lovely grin. "Well...not today." I really want to kiss her, but I keep getting jostled, all these fucking...people..moving, but not going anywhere...so...so instead we squat down in the middle of the road and share the samosas my Ba's given me. If I was like Jesus and could split a pair of samosas and feed thousands with 'em, I would do it here because a lot of these guys look malnourished, but I'd need more than this tupperware box 'cause the crowd is fucking massive, over a million they reckon, a million! It sounds like it.

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True Brits Samosas hastily devoured, I try to slyly sling my arm around, but Jess immediately shoves the banner back into my hands and then my stealthy arm slinging attempts are fucked 'cause when you're holding one of these...fucking...need two hands, don't you or it...the balance... Jess' says "NOT IN OUR NAME!" She's made one for me one too. "TRUE BRITS 4 PEACE". Fair enough. Doesn't mean you don't want to get rid of Saddam though, does it? Jess is screaming. Again. Not at anyone in particular, but she's screaming a lot, which from what I can tell is what you're meant to do here. Her passion is violent and honest and really, really attractive. I'm so stuck on her, I scream along. Can't quite muster the same intensity of feeling though. Wish I could. About something, y'know, proper. Not pop songs or Pot Noodles. I wonder if I'll ever have that. I wonder how many of this million have come here just to impress someone they fancy. A shove jerks us out of our zombie shuffle and we're running free in the open, Parliament Square. Jess chucks her banner down on a pile, throws her arms around me and murmurs in my ear: "Andik oyoon helween." What the fuck? "That means 'You have beautiful eyes'", she says. "Bousni." Eh? "It means 'kiss me', stupid." I do. We're not going to stop this war, but who really cares right now? ------------------------That's what was so nice about the Olympics, it didn't feel like it was about being better than anyone, felt like it was just for us. In fact, you know what walking down the street during the Olympics reminded me of? Of that first time you fall in love.

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True Brits When you find yourself grinning pathologically. Singing down corridors, alleyways, Tube stations, like a demented Von Trapp lost in the inner city. Did you ever have that? Luckily for the innocents who have to suffer the glory of your love, it drains. Then, as the years pile on, sensibilities get squeezed, you might tell yourself that actually no, what you felt - that wasn't love. Must've been some childish delusion. Because nothing real feels like that, does it? But the Olympics that was...trying to shrug off the pile, taking a moment to believe that you, that this place, could be a little bit glorious again. If we make the effort. Cause otherwise, like that first love, it'll haunt you forever. ------------------------30TH JANUARY 2004 Somehow I've kept it going. For a year! I know, right? I even have her picture as my phone background, which means it's official, doesn't it? I thought our anniversary was the twenty third of January, the day we went to the pub, but Jess informs me that since our first kiss was at the protest, February sixteenth is our date. We went for something in between. There's been uh...plenty of other firsts since then, I won't dredge up all the details, but let's just say that every time I hear the Smallville theme tune, I have to tuck the ensuing erection into the elastic of my boxers. I'm sitting in the school canteen scanning a postcard, in between chunks of turkey twizzler, when Rory creeps up to me and says "You've got to see what's going on in the hall, you'll be stunned." I take a peek around. I don't wanna be caught talking to him. This boy, this miserable fuck who still thinks we're friends. It looks like adolescence declared war on his face. And his eyes bulge so much, I wanna cup my hands in front of him, in case they fall out. I'm not saying that I'm one of the cool kids, it's just that Rory so clearly isn't. But he looks genuinely in awe that I follow. The school hall's an old building, there's a sort of ecclesiastical feel to the place, you know - churchy - and Mihir's standing in the middle of it, right in a light beam, shirt off, flexing. His limited array of muscles sliding between rolls of chub. He's one of those guys who shaves railroad tracks into his eyebrows, so you can tell he's a prick from ten 10

True Brits paces. He'd been bragging that he was gonna get this gigantic eagle tat across his back, with the Hindu symbol bang in the middle, and I assumed he was talking shit, but whaddaya know there he is in front of an adoring crowd. I take in the entirety of his tattoo, and Rory is right, I am stunned. Mihir notices my stupor. "Acknowledging my roots." He nods approvingly to himself. "Is it? "Don't want to forget. We shouldn't forget where we come from, bro." "Yeah? Well, 'bro', that's the Nazi swastika, you fucking donkey, not the Hindu one." "Wot? No, it ain't." "It fucking is. Eagle. Swastika. It's like a neo-Nazi's jizzed up your back." He doesn't believe me - would you want to? - so I drag him up to the library, shirt still hanging off him, slip a history text book in front of him and borrow a make-up mirror from our confused elderly librarian. I reflect it off the window so he can get a proper look. He does a triple take. Book. Mirror. Book. Mirror. Book. Hindu. Nazi. A matter of degrees. "Oh. Shit. My mum's gonna kill me." This is what you get when you try too hard. I cannot wait to get out of this ignorant hole and off to uni, somewhere far, somewhere green, where I can take Jess for like...National Trust shit when she comes up for the weekends. That's what she's doing right now with her family, Norfolk Broads, proper British holiday. Sent me a postcard, looks well nice. For the moment I'm stuck here, but when I think about her, marching across the broads, maybe screaming at a chaffinch, even Mihir, - the accidental white supremacist - even he I cannot hate. We have a whip around to pay for getting the tattoo fixed and I put in a whole tenner. ------------------------11

True Brits Do you have any siblings? I have my older sister and she adores rock music. She adores rock musicians. She's dated a rock musician who was supposedly her first love. Skinny Melvin. Skinny Melvin who played the drums (badly), wore lots of eyeliner (badly), and thought himself Thamesmead's answer to Dave Grohl. For several, perhaps understandable, reasons my sister tried to keep "Melvz" a secret from the family, but my Ba figured it out - they just know, don't they - and she didn't freak out, she just gently took my sister aside and told her that dating a white boy isn't the problem. Phew! The problem is, and I'm directly quoting the then 78 year old Indian woman here, "If he goes on tour with his band, he's just going to run off with some other girl isn't he? Prettier girl. That's what happens." The guy had a goatee, he wasn't running off with anyone. ------------------------1st OCTOBER 2004 First day at uni. Woo! I've been done with school for months. Leaving my summer job was sad, but I think the Good Ship Virgin Megastore will sail on without me. Decided I'll send Jess a CD every week, with some of my favourite songs, mixed in with extracts from my diary. Innovation like that, along with a strict MSN Messenger timetable, is vital to keeping a long-distance relationship alive. "Be careful" my Dad warns, as I send him packing. "Cheers Dad, I was gonna go and share a needle with a crack addict, but now you've said that..." The first person I encounter is this Welsh guy, and on seeing him strut up to me I know, I instantly know: This is the coolest person I'll ever meet. I will make friends with this Fonz of Norwich. He hands me a cup of tea, like it ain't no thing. "Saw you coming, thought I should fix you one. It's Nathan, by the way." I never really got the deal with tea. Like normal tea. My Ba makes me some chai sometimes and, y'know, I'll drink that because it actually tastes of something.

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True Brits The Playstation comes straight out the box and we sit down and binge on Pro Evo. He thrashes me. Repeatedly. But makes no celebration of it, just swivels his eyes to me and says. "Cup of tea ?" What is this madness? "Two? In one day?" Nathan grimaces. "Good thing you're at uni, my man, 'cause you've got so much to learn." ------------------------Do you like it? My beard? Obviously it doesn't compare to - it's a bit paedo at the moment, but it'll look better in a few weeks. I'm growing it in celebration of the Olympics. One day's growth for every bronze, two for every silver, three for every gold. One hundred and eleven days. Nice and warm, just in time for winter. Should be quite long by then, might go for the Charles Dickens look. ------------------------16st FEBRUARY 2005 I knock on Nathan's door. Two short raps, a gap and another rap so he knows it's me. I hear him from behind the door... "This country, mate, it's a quiet, boring, bored, grey place, at the centre of a soon to be collapsing global system, I tell you, in complete denial as to causes, effects, culpability, connections, yet stoically carrying on as if -." Ah...you can always tell when Nathan's been at the sambuca. He opens the door and stares at Jess, who's standing right beside me and stares right back. He grins. "So you're my man's handbrake. Tiny thing, aren't you?" I don't think Jess and Nathan are going to get on. I attempt to do the proper introductions in the kitchen over a cup of tea not chai, real tea, I'm a tea making badass now - but Nathan already knows a lot about Jess from my drunken, loved up rambles. He launches right into it.

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True Brits "Why the hell do you want to study Arabic at uni?" "I've been learning it myself for years." "I mean, why not like...French. French is sexy, classy. Arabic sounds like...like a deaf guy clearing his throat." Jess and Nathan are definitely not going to get on. "I think Arabic sounds very sexy, actually." "You both like Blur though, so can't trust your aural appreciation in general." Nathan is an Oasis fan, or at least more an Oasis fan than a Blur one. "But" he cautions "if those two are all anyone remembers of Britpop, if they become the musical ambassadors of our time, we will be truly bereft." Jess asks him who we should remember, and I think he mumbles something about Elastica, but I don't quite catch it. This conversation needs a boost, so I bring up the fact that the other day Nathan belted this guy, hadn't done nothing, he was just some random guy who To my genuine surprise, instead of making it a badge of pride or making a joke of it, he says: "I can do better, mate, I swear. Next time, I won't let you down. I'll kick his spine in. The right guy, this time." Jess looks very, very unimpressed. Maybe upset I hadn't told her. But she wouldn't have found it funny like I did. I ask her if she wants to get some dinner, but she says she should stay in and do some work. A walk, maybe? Exams coming up. No time to fuck about. A-Levels., real work. Not like uni. "You guys go, honestly. Have fun." Yeah. Happy two year anniversary... ------------------------14

True Brits When I was five years old, my granddad bought me a copy of Great Expectations. No lie. Expectations perhaps a little too great, I was just fresh off the alphabet. I asked him about this just before I headed off to uni, and he smiled and told me it was one of his goals, their hope, that I would end up becoming exactly who I have become. Which was staggering. Knowing that for you, for stupid little you, to end up doing an English degree wasn't just some fall back for people who don't know what else to do, it's actually the culmination of someone's entire life dream, a dream that carried them across continents, from dirt eating poverty in India to first world excess. When he tells me about these things, his journeys, I look at his eyes and in them I see the arc of history. I see eight decades, three continents, two independence movements and a World War. All so I could grow up in Britain. Belong here. I see decency, compassion, dignity, sacrifice and love. I vow to thee my country, what's more British than sacrifice and love? That's the Olympic spirit. ------------------------19tH MARCH 2005 The weather disrupts the trains, and by the time I manage to get up to the hospital to see her, she's already a babbling wreck. Most of her English, hell, most of her consonants, out of the window....just a procession of vowels. But she's trying to say something to me, it's in Gujarati I think, it's a bit gurgled and I...um...I don't understand, I don't really speak it. "Sorry, Ba?" She repeats. Nope. I don't get it. "In English, Ba? Just the same again, but firmer. I don't want to ask another time, so I just pat her hand. I can't take this. I have to leave. Wait. What was that? I come two hundred miles to pat her hand and leave? I go back to the bedside, hold her hand again. She smiles at me. I stay just like that, locked into her milky eyes - she was going to have a cataracts operation but - I do this until I can't bear to look at her anymore, couldn't have been more than five minutes, pathetic, and I 15

True Brits slide myself away. My grandad, he's just heard the prognosis, it was, in fact, the first time he'd ever heard the word 'prognosis', had to ask the doctor what it meant. Grandad couldn't help. With the words. Either she was incoherent, or I remember it wrong, but he doesn't recognise the sounds I'm making. "Gibberish." So he says. I don't think he's listening. He's staring at the bin like he's trying to set it on fire. "You know why this happened, don't you?" What? "When we got here, last night, I complained about your grandmother's treatment, left on a trolly for three hours. I complained and so they've punished us. They punish us with this stupid black nurse, doesn't know what she's doing. They're ruining this place." I don't want to hear this. Not from him. He's the When I was smaller, I'd hold his hands, clamber up his knees and do back flips. Back when he still had strength in those knees. He's the strongest man I know. I don't say bye, I don't go back to Ba, I head straight for the door. My sister catches me in the car park, she's just pulled in, and I hug her and tell her it'll all be alright, though of course she knows I'm lying. I'm bawling on the Tube, I can't help myself, and most people are ignoring me, looking awkward, as you would, but a good-looking couple wearing rugby tops unfold out of an embrace and conspire to hand me a tissue. Which makes me feel bad for having pegged them as smug twats when they got on at Clapham. "It'll be alright." They're off to watch England - Scotland down the pub. "Would you like to come?" asks the girl. I want to see Jess, but we've been arguing a lot and she's off visiting unis anyway, so for a second I consider it, but then I see that her fella clearly isn't on-board with that. So I just thank them for the tissue. As they tuck back into each other, I realise that they will die, so will everyone I love, that I have so many people still left to bury, to burn, and I find myself wishing a strange thing, I find myself wishing that all of them would go at once. The same act.

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True Brits That I could get it all out the way in one hit. Next day, I'm back at uni, half-watching the Six Nations build up with Nathan when the phone rings. It's my sister, I hear my Dad crying in the background, by my sis stays strong. 2.27 p.m., they're turning the machine off. Ba. Born into sunshine and died in the darkness of a South London hospital, just like mum. Three generations of my family now have lived and died south of the Thames, the Thames is our threshold. But we'll spread her ashes in the Ganges. 18th JUNE 2005 Back at uni. The months drag on, with no meaning to me whatsoever. It's a Traffic Light party tonight. Tops declaring availability. Red - No Thanks. Yellow - Could Be Tempted. Green - Totally Up For It. I'm in red, for the sake of it, so I guess I'll be having less fun, but on the plus side, as Nathan puts it, "if you get headbutted again, least no one'll notice the blood." A girl comes up to me and is all like "I'm wearing red but it's just a disguise." "Mine isn't." She slopes off with a shrug. Why the fuck am I here? Nathan's trying to chat up an evangelical Christian, which he always does when he's a bit pissed, he does like a challenge. And hey, this one...well. She's wearing green. Hardly hear from Jess, snatched phone calls aside. I don't want to dance. The music is dire. This night is going exactly nowhere. At the bar, I turn to Nathan and say, "Y'know? I wish I had the balls to kill myself." "Right. Well..." He sneaks a glance back at the evangelical. "We're going home then, aren't we?" And he drags me out, right away. Doesn't even say bye to the girl. That's what good mates do for each 17

True Brits other. JULY 2005 How I wound up on a summer holiday with Rory, fucking Rory, I don't know. No, if I'm being honest I do know...Nathan's stuck with family, Jess is in Shagaluf with her school mates, we haven't talked properly in weeks, and no one else wanted to come. I asked bloody everyone, put it as my status on MSN Messenger n'all: "Need a hol - who fancies a Continental jaunt?" Nothing. "Anyone? Jaunt?" Nothing. Except for. Rory. "I'll go." Five exclamation marks. "We could catch up!" Forgot he was even on there. Can't fob him off by saying I've found someone, cause I still need to keep that status up there. In case anyone but they don't. And I don't want to go myself. So we go together. It's amiable to start with, we share some laughs - the Pumpkin Soup Incident comes up, of course - and I try to be nice in the face of his sheer pathetic desire for a stronger connection, so many questions. He can't seem to fathom that we'd had our time. But I had some sympathy. There are two basic objectives for the trip: "Get happy" and "Keep Rory from hanging himself off the balcony" like he attempted to do with some bunting at my sixteenth. My tactic for doing both of these is, well, the thing about the south of Spain, the shitty Lads on Tour, full of Brits strip, is that though it's scummy and depressing as all hell...the absinthe is cheap as fuck, and we both liked absinthe. Rory constantly attempts to do the fancy shit, with the sugar and when you set it on fire, and say a prayer to your ancestors or whatever, but he always cocks up and burns the hair off a different part of his anatomy. Me, I just take it straight and find small causes to do so, magnitude was not a consideration. Celebrations - they pass the time, don't they? Made scrambled eggs? Absinthe. Get Rory talking to a girl in a club. Abstinthe. Get Rory talking to a girl in club and not throw up over her? Absinthe. Manage to not get washed out to sea whilst trying to row to Africa in our twenty Euro rubber dingy? Absinthe. Finished the absinthe? Absinthe. And in the middle of all the fun... Beep Beep. It's a text. From Jess. "Sorry I've been so shit, I miss you".

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True Brits KissKissKiss. Smiley face. Our second-to-last night Rory, making another valiant effort to light the sugar, manages to let out that he's always had a bit of a thing for my sister, and the sheer weight of his confession must've got to him because he contrives to spill half the bottle over his arm, and set his arm blazing. He runs around, screaming to call an ambulance, and I sit there, pleasantly not on fire, and tell him it's just the booze burning off, he'll be fine. I'm right of course, and within a few seconds it's over and he collapses into a plastic patio chair to collect himself. I cannot stop laughing. "Admit it," I say. "You have no idea what you're doing, do you?" He seems to crumple. "I haven't a fucking clue." He raises what's left in his glass for a toast: "To your grandma, mate. I'll always remember the pakoras she made for Diwali Day at primary school, they were wicked." He tries, he keeps trying, I kinda come to admire that. And actually, later, as I watch him fumble with the lighter to spark up a slap-dash rollie, I realise he's ok really. Three kisses and a smiley face. I text back. "I love you, Jess." Just that simple. I mean it. Top. My. Glass. Up. Absinthe gives you fucking weird dreams, and on this particular night, I have one where I was balancing on a platform on the underside of this zeppelin that was being buffeted by a lightning storm. It was my task to try and lasso the necks of various low lying brachiasaurus, brachiasauri? so that we'd get some stability. I've roped a couple of the monsters when my lassoing is interrupted by this beeping sound that cuts through and dissolves the dream away and I'm immediately hit by the magnitude of my hangover. We'd been celebrating. Something big if I feel this shite, something we heard about quite late in the evening... OH! Olympics! We got the fucking Olympics, didn't we?! WE. ARE. FUCKING. AMAZING. 19

True Brits London, you beauty! Désolé Paree, see you NYC, shit bid Madrid and as for Moscow? It's the Summer Olympics, guys... I can barely reach for the phone, but the beeping is sending tectonic tremors through my skull so I lunge for it. Rory stumbles in, and I throw up my other hand for an Olympic High Five. He has his phone to his ear, and while his movements are drunken, his face is sober. Sober beyond sober. And his eyes they're - fuck. He leaves me hanging. I look down at my phone. There's a message from my Dad. Just says "shave your beard off". 9th JULY 2005 I've never seen a machine gun in real life before. They look...heavy. London's heavy too. Rory's mum's at the airport to pick us up. She looks on edge. Maybe 'cause we're a bit late, they uh, they put us through the scanner twice and took me aside to ask a few questions. Nothing major, nothing you wouldn't expect. She hands me a Snickers. "Are you both ok? Anything happen to you?" Anything happen to us? We're fine! How is she? "Everyone here's ok, thank God." I want to crack a joke about God being the reason for all the fuss in the first place, but it doesn't really feel like the time. She's just trying to be nice. Rory hardly says a word all the way home. ------------------------I don't know what your office was like but at mine, during the days, no actual work got done. At 1 o clock, instead of going for an extended boozy lunch, people would nip down to see whatever was going on near us. I tried at first to ignore it, telling them that the world doesn't shut down for us so we can't for them but...I finally cracked on the 7th. Got myself down to Hyde Park, a hastily boiled Pot Noodle in hand, and watched the Brownlee brothers steam past, pushing for Gold. It seemed so easy for them, it looked like they could go forever. Triathalon eh? I'd not even get to the running by the point they did, I'd be firmly nestled into the bottom of the Serpentine. I dumped half the Pot Noodle and decided to take up a full year's gym 20

True Brits membership. Though I have, as of the current date, not yet made it down for the induction, as my Dad is very fond of reminding me. "You want your kids to be British Olympians, but you can't even get your bum onto a treadmill..." He's such a fucking But that was the day that inspired me. Did anything inspire you? What do you want your kids to be? ------------------------21st JULY 2005 A see-through backpack. Is that a sign of cowardice, an admission of guilt, or just a plain old fashion disaster? I've seen them about in the last couple of weeks, and I can't decide. I can't decide from what's in front of me either, I don't know Jess' preference, so I ask the trader, "What sort of flowers do girls like?" I really should know this by now... It's good to be back. Here. I mean, I don't fancy the park, that's for sure, but everyone here is just...friendly, yeah. This is home. Didn't use to feel that way when I was at school. The flower guy, he says, "In my experience, mate, anything's fine for girls as long as it's flowers." Wise. Friendly and wise. Even the bus, the smell of piss on the bus back gives me waves of nostalgia instead of the expected nausea. A kid sees me. Sees my flowers. Can't be more than ten. Screws his little face up. "Who are those for?" "My girlfriend." "Does she like flowers?" I hadn't actually considered that. But everyone likes flowers. "Course. Everyone likes flowers. So I'm giving her flowers." "Why? Did you try to blow her up?" Woah. I mean, I laugh, I do laugh, I like a dark joke as much as anyone, but tell him that it might be a bit too soon for jokes like that. He makes a 21

True Brits face and goes back to what I think is a Game Boy. As I get off, the boy starts to sing, and he's a got this sweet soprano voice... "If you're a paki and unhappy, fuck off home. If you're a paki and unhappy, fuck off home. If you're a paki and unhappy and you wanna go jihadi. Just fuck off little paki, fuck off home." Not quite "The Universal" but actually sort of catchy. No one says anything, you wouldn't would you? On a bus. 18th AUGUST 2005 As expected, Jess has got three As. Can't say I'm surprised. Dinner with "the inlaws" is always a tight rope, still never know what to say, but this time it's not a problem, 'cause Jess doesn't let anyone get a word in edgewise. She's excited. About uni. She should be, she deserves it, and as we get through starters - well, if you call half a stick of Sainsbury's garlic bread each, starters - her Dad just lets her run on and on and on and he's not bothered. He's happy to sit there, his face stupid with pride. And I'm glad we're doing ok. Jess stops, pushes her plate away and says she's going out to get some water, and once she's gone, I see him look at me, gearing up, and though his question isn't unexpected, I wasn't quite ready for it to come whilst I had pie in my face. "Sure you're not a Muslim, Rahul?" Bang. No nonsense. "Hey?" I reckon if I make him repeat it, he'll lose courage and clam up, but he doesn't. "Muslim. Yes? No?" "I, um...I don't see why that should matter." "But are you?" "It's not really of any relevance, is it?" "You are then". There's no winning this, and he's her Dad, so you shouldn't even be 22

True Brits trying to, but it seems like a point of principle worth fighting. And I know it'll only last 'til Jess comes back in, 'cause she'll give him an earful if she hears this going on. "Would you prefer it if I was, or if I wasn't?" "I don't have any preference about it. Of course I don't." "Then?" "I was just curious is all. You seem a bit evasive about it." Keep him talking. "Not trying to be evasive, Mr. C." "Well, it's a pork pie we're having here, so...thought I'd check." She's back. Safety. We'll keep this stored for next time. Jess senses disquiet and shoots me a questioning glance, but I've got nothing to add. "You forgot to bring the water, dear." "Oh." She's out again. He's smiling at me. "You can eat with your hands, if it'd make you more comfortable." I look at my hands. I try to smile back. Breathe. Smile. ------------------------Kids. Heh. My Ba prayed every morning in front of this little shrine in her bedroom, and once I walked past and she was just holding this photo that I always thought was my Dad, and she's just weeping. I hugged her and asked what was going on, and, well...turns out it wasn't my Dad. She'd had one before him. A little boy. A little boy with white skin, green eyes and brown hair so... The kid died. She wouldn't forget... ------------------------18th AUGUST 2005 The rest of dinner is torturous, Jess going on and her Dad just, like, just her Dad, and when I get in the car I let my Dad know that for once I'm grateful for the lift.

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True Brits He says nothing, just tosses me a see-through backpack. "What the fuck is this?" He belts me, proper hard, I'm too stunned to speak. It's been a while. He pointedly lets me know that Mihir's been attacked, five guys, twenty three stitches. "I told you!" he says, starting up the engine. "You can be friends with the whites, but when it comes down to it, the only ones who'll really care for you when it gets rough, is us, our people." He's a fucking coward. People get attacked all the time, it doesn't necessarily - who's to know? "I mean if we're honest, if we're being honest Dad", I told him, "Mihir, right, Mihir's a bit of a prick, bit of an idiot. Can easily see him mouthing off to the wrong person." "He's not even one of them!" cries my Dad, not listening to a word I've said. Maybe he should've shown them his tattoo? I say "Hey Dad, perhaps you'd be happier in India. Gujarat. I mean they only have murderous riots over there, much better than a couple of beatings." But he can't even speak the language, can he? Not properly. Neither of us can. But fuck it, we're here now, in Britain. We should reset. I mean you don't hear the Royal Family banging on about their German roots, do you? They don't invite you to the palace garden for tea and bratwurst. We pull up at the mini-roundabout and I get out the car, tell him I'm going to walk home. He's seething. He doesn't hang about. My dad can go wherever he wants. Me? I'm the fucking reset button. ------------------------...and what's funny about that is that, when I was very little, about the same age as he was in that photo, I used to try and scrub my skin white in the shower. I'd get a scourer from the kitchen, one of those green sponge things, right, and just go at a part of me. Twenty minutes later, I'd come out, run up to my my Ba, I'd run up to her and tug at her sari. "Ba! Ba! Look!" Eventually she'd turn and I'd thrust this raw, scratched arm at her. "Look Ba, it's whiter. It's getting whiter, isn't it?" She'd tap up 24

True Brits her glasses, and slowly roll the arm around in her crumpled hands. Inspection complete, she'd scowl and say - every time - "Scrub harder!" Scrub harder. ------------------------SEPTEMBER 2ND 2005 At first, this doesn't make sense to me. But then I can hear her Dad's voice as she goes on. His words. The flowers I gave her are propped up in a a pint glass on top of her bookshelf and they are dead, very dead, and I say something about them being fitting, but she doesn't appreciate the symbolism in the present moment. He probably didn't think I'd blow her up or anything, he's not that simple, what's more likely is that he reckoned that at some point I'd get a beating and he didn't want her to be caught up in that. Fair enough, nobody'll cry over me getting a few more scratches, but she's unblemished so it'd be a shame to have that ruined over someone like me. I just thought that she'd be willing to, I thought we were There's a lingering silence when we're done talking about what I was summoned there to talk about, to be talked to about, and to fill it, she asks if I'm hungry. And I tell her no, I never eat very much anyway. Which totally sets her off. Fussing. Guilt. Neuroses. It was a stupid thing to say, of course, stupid and unfair. But I said it on purpose. I knew what it'd do. She says she'll make me a risotto, a fucking risotto, and as soon as I can hear her chopping onions in the kitchen, I slip out to get the night bus home. Which is surprisingly uneventful. ------------------------You know, I forgot the anniversary this year. A lot of people did, I think. I only remembered when I saw the tribute in the Opening Ceremony. Sitting alone in my living room, volume bumped, and the energy drops all of a sudden and I thought "what the fuck is this..." And then they said it, and I was a bit ashamed. But not for long. That wouldn't happen in America, they'd not let you not forget. Whereas 25

True Brits we're actually not so bad at it, Brits. We're great at forgetting the bad stuff...we don't turn everything into an eternal performance of grief and guilt, to be kept aflame and passed down. It's better that way. So I guess why I'm here is, why I wanted to talk to you., what I've been trying to ask is...could you...do you think we could forget? ------------------------13th SEPTEMBER 2005 It's hot for September. The old lady on the train is looking at me, still looking at me, I can feel her eyes on the sweat of my neck. When I turn to catch her out, she flicks her head back to her book, like she's subtle, but she ain't. I'd rather she just punch me, y'know? The punch I can take, she can get it out. But the look...all these frightened half-stares bring me down. I put on my most refined accent, and find a reason to ask someone: "Excuse me, this train's to Charing Cross isn't it?" Blank faces. On public transport, in terms of desirability, I guess bombers are rivalled only by people who attempt to start conversations. Doesn't help. The old lady, she cocks her head as if to say "you're not fooling me!" Can't she see I'm not a threat? If I'm going to say anything, maybe I should just come out and say...I want to say: "Hey, look, I'm not religious, but my family are all -, we're My dad's in a fucking golf society. We're not the ones who you..." Fuck. I slip my backpack off and dump it on the floor. Someone sucks in their breath. I don't wear the see-through one. I tried it, not for me, for them. For everyone else to feel better. Makes me feel like the kid from primary school you can't trust with the scissors. And it didn't stop them looking anyhow. I'm going to stick with the accent from now on though. It'll help. Maybe if I start wearing a suit too...

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True Brits I step off the train and shuffle into Charing Cross station, scanning the leaners on the walls for Nathan, when I catch eyes with the fatter of two policemen standing lookout in the middle of the concourse. He nudges his partner, the Laurel to his Hardy, and make their way for me. I swing my bag around, I know the drill by now, but honestly there is nothing in it really, just a can of Coke for later and my wallet. I don't like having my wallet in my pocket, feels a bit "Excuse me sir, we're conducting random searches under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000...." "Right, sure thing, whatever you need to do." Inspection. "Driver's Licence? Very nice." No idea what that's supposed to mean. One paws, the other scrawls. Height? 5'11. Clothing? Brown jumper, blue jeans, Adidas trailers. They're Gola, but I'm not going to correct them. Intimate parts exposed? ...No. Wonder how often that box gets ticked. They are friendly guys these, machine guns aside, doing what they need to do. The public are scared, they want to feel safe, this is a way, the only way to make that happen. It'd be so easy in the future to forget what it felt like. I'm not saying that when a Brazilian electrician - on an expired visa by the way, I know it's not important, but just saying - gets shot through the head due to a catalogue of fuck ups, we should just dismiss it. No. BUT. They're doing their best under some unbelievable pressure. They never asked for this. They hand me the form so I can self-identity myself. A1. British Indian. I see the check boxes, the intimate parts box has still got me thinking, and I can't help myself, I can't help but ask... "These are random searches? Not targeted." "Yes, sir." "How random are they?" "Sorry?" "I mean like, d'you have like a list? Of who ticks what? To keep track." "No." "Then how does anyone know that it's random?"

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True Brits I don't mean anything by this. "What my colleague means" says Laurel, cutting in "is that there is a list, but we aren't allowed to show it, I'm afraid." Fair enough. I want to ask more, I'm just curious really, I really, honestly, don't mean anything by it, I'm on their side, but I can see they aren't in the mood for this - I'm sure they have to put up with questions like that a lot - and besides I've spotted Nathan across the concourse. Sunglasses on and a Strongbow in each hand. Looks like he's sniggering. I thank them, they give me my souvenir. My pink slip. I can add it to the collection. "What the fuck did you do this time?" "Nothing, I was just walking from the - it's random searches." "Yeah? Luck like yours, please buy me a lottery ticket." He doesn't know the details about Jess yet, so I rush through them to try and shut him up. I do, in fact, mumble. "Tsk. That's a shame, mate, sorry." He hands me one of the cans, doubly warm from the day and his sweaty hands. I'm not fussed, I'll drink it anyway. "Happy one year anniversary! More or less. Whole year of intensive training with me and you're still shit at Pro Evo. As shit as the Aussies are at cricket! Bosh." He's Welsh, I didn't think he'd give a shit. Apparently, the England cricket team represents Wales. Confusing. Never knew. They are random. I know it doesn't seem like it, but they are. By the time we reach Trafalgar Square, it's already packed and we're way way back, but can still just about see the team waving from the parade bus and they got screens and speakers anyway. Flintoff is already pissed out of his head. Of course he is, what a hero. You don't have to like cricket to like Freddie Flintoff. Nathan scans the crowd. Looking for a sports-loving rebound, maybe. "God, don't you hate it when ugly people have fashionable haircuts," he says. "It's so misleading." A foreign TV station host, Italian maybe, head to toe in what looks like white vinyl rocks up asks me what I think about it all. What do I think? I 28

True Brits tell him "We better make the most of this, because it's never going to happen again. This is the probably the best we're ever gonna do at sports." Music starts blasting from the speakers and everyone's dancing. The presenter cuts his hand across his throat, calling it quits, and over his shoulder I see it from a distance a large green and white banner, red writing scrawled across it. Some in what I take to be Arabic, which I can't understand, and some in English, which I do. "BLIAR." Jesus. Today? Really? Nathan grabs my arm, thrusts another can into my hand and points, drawing my attention to Flintoff who is now hanging off the side of the bus and inspired, we surge into the centre. There's a circle of people around one guy who's either trying to break dance or so pissed that he's falling over a lot. Looks like he's really hurting himself. The song switches and I sense my moment. "Make way for the Lord of Shapes, bitches!" Did I really just say that? I'm in the middle. People are staring at me. Expectant. What's he gonna do, what's he gonna do, what's he gonna... I am, and always have been a terrible dancer, but it doesn't matter here, if anything the worst the better. So I get down to it. I'm hurling myself about with no particular rhythm but shit loads of enthusiasm and soon everyone's cheering me on. My people. Clapping. Cheering. Laughing. The sun is blazing, and I am the show. I swing my bag around like a catapult, King David showing his loyal subjects how he took down a giant and then I pull the can out, crack it open and it erupts everywhere. Hah! This one guy's totally soaked. ...Might be a bit much. The track changes again, a new pretender to the throne steps up, and we get pushed back out. I'm panting - that was probably the most exercise I've done in like forever, and Nathan up ends his can over my head. 29

True Brits "That'll cool you down." What a knob. What a brilliant knob he is. Fighting our way out to the back of the square is easy, crowds part like the Red Sea when you're drenched in booze and then I hear it. The first few notes. My spine chills. Jerusalem. No dancing now. Just singing. And my heart is swelling, and I feel like I'm lifting off when "Do you know who that is?" The banner bearer's snuck up on us. Nasally voice, instantly grating. And he's got a beard. Big, bushy one. Nasty, like rolled up pubes. He's pointing at the statue. "WHAT?" "Do you know?" I do, as it happens. My house at school was named after him. The cider's slicking off the ends of my hair. "Yeah." I tell him. "Henry Havelock". "Sir Henry Havelock" Nathan chips in. But banner guy isn't interested in Nathan. "And you know what he's there for, yeah?" "Yeah. Of course." How is this anything to do with me? Or anyone here? "It's an affront to our people. That it's still standing is a complete mockery, a glorification of Imperial militarism, it perpetuates -" "Whatever. It's a statue, mate." It's just a fucking statue, and we're just here for the fucking cricket. At this point, Nathan offers the guy a Strongbow. He sniffs at it. "I don't drink." Of course he doesn't. "Right...well, I fancy some lager anyway, so I'll just leave it here for you, champ, in case you change your mind." Nathan. What a lad. We go. Yet the guy, this fucking Martyr shouts out after us: "It's for people like us to make a difference! We have to be the ones to question!" 30

True Brits But there's no difference we can make to the past once it's happened, can only make the best of it, and he doesn't seem to get that. My head is busy and buzzing, but my stomach is, my stomach is Burger King. Swaying in the line, quite fun actually. I have a moment to myself and I realise I might be a bit pissed. I realise I might be a bit heartbroken. The brown guy behind the counter smiles at me. Pityingly? You're not in the position for that, mate. Maybe it's a knowing smile, but what does he know about me? Fuck all. Give me my burger. Few minutes later, just along The Strand, we're finishing up our fries and the Martyr is suddenly bang in front of us. He starts up again. "If you're wilfully blind to this nation's crimes abroad, you're complicit in them." Nathan's already tired of this. "Careful what you're saying, he's got a mate over there, haven't you?" It's true. Rory. What Rory Did Next. "You want to join the army?! There's a fucking war on, Rory." "I know - that's why I'm doing it." The training, he tells me, "The training, it's not what you imagine, it's all about looking after the guy next to you, not fucking up the ones in front of you. We're not out there to kill people." He believed what he was saying. I nod. The Martyr scoffs. "I think if he's friends with a baby killer, I should be saying a lot more than what I have." Now I'm not sure who pushed who first, but it's certainly not me, cause I'm watching the two of them twist into the alley next to us. It's almost comic, fights always look way more rubbish than you think they will, more grappling than anything and with them it's like they're trying to tear off each other's clothes, not faces. I follow them in, just in case, but Nathan's got the handle on this, of course he does. He's managed to get the guy's arm pinned up against his back and he's pushing, squeezing up hard, trying to pop the shoulder up and out maybe. Not sure if that's how you do it. The Martyr, he manages to swing his other arm free, swinging towards 31

True Brits me, and his fingertips brush mine. "Brother, please!" I bat it away. I'm not his brother. I know why he thinks I am, but that doesn't make it true. Brothers don't fuck stuff up for each other do they, so I don't know why he, his lot, wanted to fuck stuff up for the rest of us who were trying so hard to make it work, I'm so tired of proving - I mean, nobody loves Iraq, we're all very aware of that, I went on the march and everything didn't I, but today is a day of celebration and we just fucking needed that, can't he see that, why does this guy have to be such a cunt, for fuckssake. This. This is why we hate them. Always quick to wave a banner, but never the flag. Scream out slogans, but not the anthem, I wanna rip his teeth out and crush them in my hands. But I Giving up on the dislocation attempt, Nathan shoves the Martyr against the wall, grazing his face up against a graffiti cock, but as he does, he notices he's dropped his bag in a puddle, could be piss that, it is late in the day, could be piss that's soaking up into the canvas and so he goes to rescue it. The Martyr sees his opening and tries to scurry off and I admit that here I did stick out a leg. I stick out a leg and trip him into some bin bags. He wades through the bags, pathetic really, trying to get away, so I grab at his ankles, and he kicks out, trashing like a crocodile. I still have the wherewithal to dodge this, with my hands still firmly clamped on his shoes, but he wiggles out of them and does this chimpy, on-all-fours run out of the alley, into the light of the street. A breadcrumb trail of blood follows him. Nathan gets his breath back, takes in what's just happened and exhales hard. "Fucking hell. The prick stretched out my jumper." He looks at me standing there, holding the Martyr's shoes, a pair of rotted knock-off Converse, and he starts to chuckle. I join in, but I don't really feel like laughing, I'm not sure what this is that I'm feeling. "Let's get back to it." He slings a proud arm around my neck. I didn't hit him, a trip isn't a hit and the bin bags broke his fall anyway. I can tell it's going to be a gorgeous evening, the heat will keep up long into the night. It does. We stay out late.

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True Brits Drink. Dance. Sing. Don't talk about it. 12TH AUGUST 2012 Jess works for the Foreign Office now. She was at Deloittes, like half the graduate population, but now she's not, she's moved into a place, a new build quite near by, to be closer to her parents, her Dad's not too well. Phone call, unknown number. Thought it was an insurance scam robot so almost didn't pick up, I don't usually, but I'm glad I gave it a chance and - her voice is just the same. She said that she couldn't believe that I have the same number after all these years. People change a lot as they get older, but in my opinion a phone number is one thing you should hang on to if you can. I told her that I have a spare ticket for the Closing Ceremony Concert in Hyde Park - "Jess, I always buy two tickets to everything and always forget I have, I'm such a dope" - and it was Blur headlining of course so does she want to come along? We could go up together, and wouldn't that be fine and not weird at all. Of course, I don't actually have a spare ticket, but eBay helps me out. Forty quid over the odds, which will mean a couple of extra shifts, but worth it cause she sounded so excited. Hyde Park. "Is this the way they say the future's meant to feel, 20,000 people standing in a field." No wait. That's Pulp. I've just flown down the stairs with the tickets in hand, when I hear a call from the living room. "Where's he from?" I peek around the door way and see my granddad scanning the expansive newspaper laid out in front of him. His eyes are going, have gone, so much by now that he's squinting up close like a detective hunting for clues. It's The Telegraph, an Olympics special supplement. "Who, grandad?" "This one. Here. Doing the thing with his arms." He points to a familiar, bony figure. 33

True Brits "Oh. Well, he's British." "I mean, originally. He's was from somewhere else, wasn't he?" "Yeah. Somalia. Sort of. But he left when he was a kid, you know, like Dad. He's a bit like Dad, except he's skinny and into running, instead of chubby and into golf." "Is it?...Bloody Somalis. I tell you one thing, they never pay their bloody rent on time." I bet Mo Farah pays his rent on time. I bet Mo has a mortgage. A Mo-gage. My granddad throws the paper aside. He was the strongest man I knew, and he's still the smartest. But he's not the future, and the future is all I'm worried about. The train station. She looks pleased to see me. Pleased and I can't help but notice, a bit rounder too. Not so much the face, which is older, in an elegant way, but more around the wrists, the neck, general connecty bits, y'know, which I admit did make me smile - her being rounder - made me smile to see even though, as I understand it, that might make me a chauvinist. We get through the "how have you beens" and "what you up to nowadays" and she's not using her Arabic, but she does love what she's doing anyway so it doesn't really matter. I tell her I've started language lessons, Gujarati. My gran donated all her money to a girl's orphanage in India, so they could get computers, and I'd like to go out there and see it, be able to talk to them, tell them about her. Not just look and go "awww." Think I figured out what she told me. "Thame passe dun rakoh." Look after yourself. Yourself. Jess's got a beer in her hand already, she's started drinking Coronas it seems, which completely cracks me up, she was never a beer girl. She digs out another one from her bag, expertly opens it with her keys, and hands it over. The Central Line is rammed, no idea why we thought the Tube was a good idea, but we see this woman, tucked into herself and she's eating this tiny pot of yoghurt, she's got a whole picnic basket wedged inbetween her legs for safety so she's probably going to the park too but she's started on this yoghurt pot already and what I realise, what I realise is that what I desperately want, more than anything in the world, is for this woman to be happy. It's fucking stupid but yeah...really want her to enjoy that yoghurt. I try to catch her eye, to try and some how let her know that I wish all the best for her. She ignores me for the yoghurt. 34

True Brits Petite Filous? I would too. "Reckon her and the yoghurt are on a date?" whispers Jess, nowhere near quietly enough. The first support act does not inspire, but the screen flashes up to tell us that Anthony Joshua's won gold in the super-heavyweight boxing, our final gold, number 29, and I have no idea who the fuck Anthony Joshua is and I'll forget him by next year anyway, but I'm sure glad he's done it. My celebratory fist pump morphs into a Rocky montage of jabs and hooks and Jess says "This is all just about the winning, you realise." I drop my guard. "People say they're proud of Britain. They aren't. Not all of it. they're proud of a few people in Britain. They're not fawning over the Great British Paedo, the Rapist, the Robber, the Bomber. It's easy to be proud of a winner. Pretend the rest aren't a part of us. Don't you think?" I don't think. "If we just lost everything, we'd be going at each other's throats, nobody would be proud about that, would they?" I think they would still. "Most people" I say. "We can be proud of most people." We lay back on the grass. She asks how my friend is. "Which friend?" "The smart arse." "Oh. Nathan." "Yeah." "We kinda drifted apart after uni, you know how it is." "He was a massive wanker." "Yeah, I know." I miss him, to tell you the truth, but I can't find it in myself to tell her that, and besides...she's given me the cue. The perfect tee up. I prop myself up onto my elbows and I ask her. Straight. "So. 2005. What was that all about then?" Ok, so that's not exactly straight, it's more than a little cryptic, and not at all smooth, but she knows what I'm referring to, it can only mean the one thing, can't it? 35

True Brits She shuffles her toes into her sandals. Yes, I do realise that this is a bit of a mood killer, but I can't help myself. I need to have this confirmed for me. "Well, I didn't really feel I could say at the time...it's quite unfair, thinking back..." I knew it! "It's ok, you can say anything now, you know. Olympics. Mo Farah, and that. It's all different isn't it." "Yeah, well, basically, the thing was..." "Uhuh..." "You were a bit crap in bed. Bit fumbly." Needless to say - but I will say it - needless to say, this wasn't what I was expecting to hear. She blushes, tight smile. Looks at the sandals, she can't clutch her toes any tighter. "I mean, I didn't really know what I wanted at all at that age, but thought that should be high on the list. A good shag before I went off to uni, some sort of reference marker." "Right, yeah." "Yeah?" "Well. Fair enough." She shakes her head and gives me a look soaked in sympathy. "You actually believe that? You're an idiot." "Sorry." She laughs, tells me I've nothing to apologise for, but I do, I really do. She tells me that we were just kids, that for her having a boyfriend was easier than not and helped keep some questions away, that she doesn't regret what we had, doesn't regret anything and asks if I do. I think on this and say: "Bunting. I regret not investing in bunting. Between this and the Jubilee, I'd have made a fucking fortune." I saw the Olympic Games in my lifetime, in my city, and I can't help but marvel at how lucky I am because it was great, and we're great, great

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True Brits Britain, great Britons, I believe that. An old couple are waltzing in front of us, the man's wearing a plastic Union Jack hat and for some reason it makes me think about Rory for the first time in years, and I wonder what happened to him. I hope he's got a flag painted on his face, or propped on his head, not draped over his coffin. He's never on MSN Messenger anymore, but then no one is are they. If anything had happened, I think I'd have found out, they'd be playing a Rory Sykes Memorial Football Match at the school every year, which would be funny cause he actually hated football. Maybe he was one of the guys patrolling the Olympic Park after the G4S fuck up, y'know, proud and appreciated at last, maybe I saw him, just didn't realise, but right here I do see, as the crowd crushes forward for the main act, I think I...I think I see you. "Don't be stupid" I tell myself, "why would you be here?" But why not? You can like Blur and hate Blair, can't you, no reason for those feelings to be mutually exclusive. If anything that's probably a popular combination nowadays. If it is you, you've got new shoes. Looks like real Converse this time. I imagine what I would say to you, if we could sit down and talk what I would say about me, about where I came from, if I could make you laugh, make you listen, make you understand how little it takes to - and ask you if, maybe, what I did might've been one of the best things that ever happened to you. In some way? And if not, could we just wave a flag together, not serious...for a lark, for the fun of it, and forget? Two British Asians representing, no fuck that - just two Brits, representing whatever. Whatever we want. Doesn't matter. But we might end up laughing. Laughing. Talking. Listening. All three, why not? Fuck the anthem, it's a shit song, the athletes don't even sing it, let's just chat and have a laugh. The sun starts to fall from the sky and me and Jess, we enjoy the rest of the concert, and though it doesn't feel like we're dredging up anything and Blur aren't anywhere near as good as I remember them being, with this crowd it's a total joy-fest and then they play my favourite song, and when Graham Coxon sings "Love's the greatest thing that we have", I don't believe in Gods, and I'm not sure I believe Graham either, but I turn to Jess, who's already looking at me, and I catch in her eyes just the 37

True Brits faintest flick of a glimmer and I can't help but smile. I mean, look around you, it feels alright down here now, doesn't it? Less "where you from?" and more "where could we go?'. And like, for when it wasn't, I can't blame them, can't blame anyone. So don't try. Don't. How can you? Please. Just... I believe love can be an Olympian effort, to pull up with every spent sinew, on the cold mornings, in the dark evenings, when the world wants you to just give up and find comfort in the mud and it's been hard, I know it's been hard, and confusing and I'm so very tired and this isn't the end...but in a moment like this, for a moment like this, don't you think, don't you think it might all be worth it?

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