Twenty-four year old Ben Donovan found himself feeling increasingly trapped and anxious last Wednesday evening as an initially friendly chat with seventy-eight year-old pensioner Fred Greggs at a Bethnal Green bus stop continually teetered on the edge of small talk and explicit racism. ‘This sweet old man said to me how the bus was late again, and I said something about London Transport these days’, explained the trainee solicitor, ‘He then said how the drivers are all a bit laidback, if I knew what he meant, and started whistling what I think was a calypso while miming smoking what I suspect wasn’t just an unfiltered Woodbine.’
With the rest of the bus queue clearly listening into their conversation, Donovan muttered something about bendy buses and tried to change the subject. Taking into account Greggs advanced years, the younger man guessed that he might be a fan of ballroom dancing so asked him if he was watching ‘Strictly’ with Bruce Forsyth. ‘Well, I really hadn’t thought that one through,’ observed Donovan.
Greggs began by saying how much he loved a good foxtrot, and how Tess Daly was a lovely girl that reminded him of his granddaughter, but soon veered into claims that certain competitors were at an advantage because of their ‘primal athleticism and sense of rhythm’. Greggs then started on ‘that other lot’ who’d been ‘getting a bit uppity’ about some name calling.
‘I was trying to find a polite way to suggest that it would, in many ways, be unlikely and impractical for the BBC to allow the setting up of a convenience store on the corner of the dance floor,’ said the young lawyer, ‘when fortunately a couple of well turned out young men with man-bags walked passed and he called out ‘Watch yer backs!’, which was clearly directed at the bus queue in general.’
But it was when a group of Orthodox Jews came into view, and the pensioner began an observation with the words ‘Say what you like about that Hitler…’ when Donovan decided he really had to act.
‘I read somewhere that for evil to succeed, it only takes good men to do nothing, and I prepared to tell Greggs, and everybody else at the bus stop, how Britain was a nation built on diversity and that our modern multicultural nation was a better place than any closed-minded, petty, bigoted country he cared to remember,’ claimed an impassioned Donovan. ‘But then the 388 arrived, and I had to get on it, as I needed to get home in time for Masterchef. Next time, though…’