Wednesday, July 15, 2015

In which the owner of my cafe dies

The first day I moved into my flat, he made me a chicken sandwich for a pound.

The cafe downstairs was always busy, explosively so when all the building work began in Kings Cross. Builders spilled out onto the tables in a dazzling array of massive arms and chips.

It was a great cafe. The set breakfasts were always puzzlingly huge (would the No 2 or the No 4 guarantee you'd be able to eat again that day?), and the corned beef omelette an unlikely jewel.

Even though I prefer to sit in the pub of a morning (the coffee was nicer), I'd still go in for the £2 eggs on toast, or for lunch with a friend. The prices never went up.

The owner was famously hard-working, always said hello, and was very kind about my awful Turkish.

When the cafe was shuttered at the weekend it seemed odd. Then the sign popped up.
Ah well, I thought. One of those sad little things. He worked so hard, he chain-smoked, he loved his own cooking - of course life wouldn't let him enjoy his success.
Turns out I was wrong.
There was a woman standing outside the cafe this morning, smoking a cigarette and crying.
"You know he got shot, didn't you?" she said.

Oh. Up until then I'd not connected the weekend's shooting in Wood Green with that sad little note. Why would I? But, of course, it turned out he'd worked hard, he'd made money, he'd opened a second business. And he'd sat down outside for a cup of coffee when he got shot.

Wood Green Shooting victim Erdgoan Guzel

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The Fight

There are things you wouldn’t expect me to get involved in. A fight is one of them.
Ten minutes before I’d been at my Turkish evening class, singing along to a youtube song about a man who has loved, lost and now stands outside her window burning her photos. Anyway, you know, a warm happy summer night. And there I was, pedalling home on a Boris bike and there was this woman screaming on the ground.

I watched, as you do, with that casual “oh, that’s unusual” way as a man bounced her head off the pavement, tearing at her hair as he kicked her over and over. And she screamed. How she screamed.

It was all bizarre. The street outside Euston station was crowded with people. None of them particularly noticing. And I just glided past on my bike. Because these things don’t happen. People do not try and open up the heads of blondes on warm summer evenings.

At some point my brain registered that this was A Thing. My brain then looked for the people rushing to help. There were people. But they weren’t doing anything. A pub full of people sat opposite looking at it like they’d look at a passing bus. And then I sort of swerved onto the pavement and into the fight.

You’re probably wondering what unlikely combat skills I possess. Well, I once did kickboxing (achievements – one ugly yellow belt and a collapsed buttock). But really, that was so long ago, and the man was still hitting the woman, this weird, horrid, woman-smashing rage. And I was holding a bike and couldn’t work out how to punch him, let alone hold a bike and punch him. So I shoved the bike at him. I ran over his foot. This got his attention. And then I started shouting at him.

Crawling on the floor, sobbing somewhere was the victim. At least the man had stopped hitting her. I think I may have shouted “You do not hit a woman”. I think I may also have said “Fuck”, which balances out the Edwardian flourish. But basically I was standing there, staring at a really very angry man with a cross tattooed under his eyes. His fist was bunched up and he was going to hit me and I thought this would really be quite annoying. I’m quite sure it would hurt, but I also had my shopping somewhere and that really needed to go in the fridge and also, did I mention it was a Boris Bike? It would have to go into a stand before I got an excess fine. Anyway, there he was making to hit me, but I just kept on shouting. Who, anyway, who gets a cross tattoed under their eye? Who walks in to a parlour and says “That’s what I want, just keep it classy, yeah?”

By now some people had left the pub and come over. The kind of people who should deal with crises like this. Stocky men who looked like fridges, wearing horizontal stripes - giant bumblebees. They sat the woman down on some steps where she curled up, crying with pain.

I was holding a bike, my shopping, and also keeping a weird angry man with a silly tattoo at bay. “Could you call 999?” I asked the crowd. “Um,” said the crowd, "Can't you?".
"Seriously?" I said.
So, we all ended up calling 999. I’m amazed we didn’t end up with the coastguard.

All this while the man stood there, glaring very angrily at us all, because we were stood between him and the woman who he clearly fancied hurting some more.
“You don’t know what she’s like,” he said. 
“Fuck off,” I said to him.
And he did. Which is annoying.

The gap between him fucking off and the police turning up was long. Someone took a photo of the man’s back. “It may help,” he said.
We all tried making small talk. Even the victim. The kind of pointless small talk that happens when everyone’s run out of things to say. I felt an absurd urge to tell people about the song we’d learned at my evening course, but thank god I didn’t. The victim’s name wasn’t Claire, but let’s call her that. She suddenly looked up when one of the 999 calls asked for her mobile number.

“Oh,” Claire said. “It’s not on me. He must have took it.” Someone had emerged from an office building to try and help. He had an iPhone 6. “It was nice. Like that,” she said. He offered her a cigarette.
We talked about phones for a bit until the police turned up.
I kept thinking of the man getting away. One of us really should have been doing something about him.

As to what it was all about and why it happened, the accounts that emerged were all over the place. Claire said she’d never met the man before and he’d just attacked her out of nowhere. The people from the pub said they’d seen them drinking together on the steps for an hour before he’d attacked her.
“Yeah, and then he was kicking her for a bit and I stopped it,” said the Man From The Pub, telling his story to the policeman. This was, I thought, a bit rich. But then again, he looked much more like the kind of person who would stop a fight than me. “I’m from Sunderland,” he said, “We don’t have that there.”
“Oh, did you drive up?” said someone else. “What road did you take?”

“I just wanted another drink,” said Claire. She said she’d just wandered out from her hostel and it had all got a bit confusing. She kept patting at her head, tugging out clumps of torn hair. She seemed quite out of it. She was holding a bottle of beer. She may have been drunk, she may have been in shock. “So this is London,” Claire said. “You can keep it.”
Everyone from out of town agreed.

The man who’d taken a photo of the attacker’s back showed it to the policeman. He nodded politely at it. “Doesn’t matter,” said the policeman. “We’ve got lots of cameras. He’ll be on them all.” Which is both reassuring and a little creepy.

The Metropolitan Police are odd. As an institution they’re weird. They keep shooting people who don’t have guns. And yet, individually, whenever you meet any of the police, they’re marvellous. Also, due to all the jumpers and protective jackets, slightly larger than life. Two police came round to my flat last summer. It was like having tea with a Dalek and a Black Cab. That vague “how do they get through the doors or even fit on the sofa?” sense. And, last night, the urge to say “you’re wearing all that? In this weather?”.

But the policeman, clearly a local, was amazing.
“I’ve got no-one,” said Claire. “I don’t know anyone.”
Two tramps shuffled past. “Alright, Claire!” they waved.
The policeman waved at them. “Can you hang around and take her back to the hostel in a moment?” he said. “Oh, and don’t forget I’m seeing you both in court next week.”
“No worries,” saluted someone holding a sleeping bag. They stood and waited, drinking from a bottle of what looked like Baileys and Cider. The kind of cocktail you make when your parents are out and you wonder why no-one has ever put white wine and crème de menthe together.

At this point Claire stopped patting down her ruined hair and instead shook her bag. “Oh that’s funny,” she announced casually. “My money’s gone. He seems to have taken all my money. I don’t suppose any of you have any spare change?”

At some point the policeman said we could go. The Sunderland Bumblebee went back to his pint, and I went to put my shopping in the fridge. We left Claire being looked after by the policeman. Fuck knows what was going on with her evening or her life, but no one deserves being kicked across Eversholt Street.

And as for the man, the man with the cross tattooed underneath his eye? Well, no-one seemed in any hurry to find him. No need. After all, he was on all the cameras.