I was in my Portuguese café the other day on South Lambeth Road - a long stretch of road that serves as a corridor connecting Stockwell to Vauxhall - as I have been most days for the last ten years, writing away, pondering the next hairstyle, and trying not over stirring my latte with my tall spoon as I am prone to doing. This is SW8, also known as Little Portugal, home to 27,000 Madeirans and Portuguese, a world of hustlers, bad teeth and trophy dogs.
And there was a Mediterranean couple, late thirties, early forties, in the cafe arguing, making it hard for me and anyone else to ignore them, and the guy grabbed his woman and threatened to slap her. And this was happening right in front of me. People were looking and I couldn’t just pretend I wasn’t seeing it. I remain haunted by an incident that occurred in the early nineties as my parents’ marriage entered its final days when my mum and dad took turns to thump each other over the head with a brand new roll of brown tape. I was too bemused to step in that day, but have remained forever haunted by that incident (well it competes with about another 50 hauntings, I’m just a haunted guy).
I tried visualising the scene taking place before me in the café in black and white, in the hope it might offend me less. Black and white films showing the likes of silver screen legends like Cagney slapping their woman about are on TV every other day of the week, the slap usually followed by a clinch. But the monochrome thing wasn’t working for me.
I felt it was just outrageous of this guy to assume that no one was going to step in and prevent him from striking his woman, but I really was hoping it wouldn’t have to be me because of the state of my clothes. Back at the end of ’07, in a piece that previously appeared on Sabotage Times (Beauty and the Beast), I had stepped in to defend the honour of another woman as she was threatened by a man, but this time in better clothes. Hey, it may even have been the same clothes I was wearing now. I am wont to holding onto things forever. Like Don Revie’s great Leeds United side, my clothes go on too long.
And as I sat down, I thought, if this guy does come back for me - and you know, he may well do, as there’s no way I’m going to stop coming to the café - and hurts me, what will the locals tell the police?
Yeah, there are the odd flashes of magic like Leeds’ advance to the 1975 European Cup Final where Bayern defeated them at the Parc des Princes. On a dim lit stage in North London when I’m performing stand up, my slim fit jeans look great. No one can see that the crotch has been stitched up multiple times by my aunt, that like Revie’s team that night against Bayern, by then overseen by Jimmy Armfield, my jeans are past it. The audience are too drunk to see me walk awkwardly onto the stage. They have no idea how strangled my groin now feels encased in that repaired denim crotch.
So uppermost in my mind, I was concerned that the first thing this guy might say to me if I stepped in would be, his English permitting, “Take your shit clothes and beautiful nose back to your table, Spaniard”. But I know who I am. Okay, aside from being the guy who didn’t stop losing for three years, I’m also a good guy, now on his way back. And my renaissance won’t be complete if I became the kind of guy who turned a blind eye to such incidents. There was no way I wasn’t doing anything.
As the guy rose from his seat and towered over her, ready to slap her with a hand covered in an array of rather vulgar rings, I stepped in and attempted to have a word with him. Naturally he wasn’t happy and started threatening me. My limited range of facial expressions come into their own at moments like this. My emotionally crippled expressions do not allow me to show any fear, even when scared. So I stood there, a bit like Alan Shearer did a decade ago when Roy Keane, on his way to being red carded, memorably attempted to slap him after Shearer had thrown the ball at him during a Newcastle-United game. The guy circled me but I stood my ground, and much like Keane’s United teammates leading him away, this aggressive man was persuaded to leave the café by the waiters who finally stepped in and threw him out.
The guy left, issuing threats in Portuguese about what would happen to me if he sees me about. I quickly retreated to my table having noticed women present in the café had begun to stare at my restitched jeans.
And as I sat down, I thought, if this guy does come back for me - and you know, he may well do, as there’s no way I’m going to stop coming to the café - and hurts me, what will the locals tell the police? My concern here is twofold: their English isn’t great, and I’m also concerned the locals will close ranks around one of their own and that my initial act of nobility, stepping in to protect a woman when no one else did, will be lost from all coverage of what will appear as a four line story in the South London Press “Badly dressed 39 year old with beautiful nose & prone to football analogies, killed in dispute with upstanding member of Portuguese community”. Reports will just say it was a dispute between two men, with the Portuguese guy perhaps taking issue with my frugal maximum 2-latte orders stretching back ten years.
That would be disappointing. I want my act of nobility recognised.
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