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A Yankee in the Green Man Pub
Last uploaded : Saturday 8th Apr 2006 at 02:23
Contributed by : Carol Gould



‘Condoleezza Rice should be sent to Iraq, tried as a war criminal and executed.’
-- a demonstrator from the Muslim community of Blackburn -- 31st March 2006

This has not been an easy fortnight to be an American in Britain. In newspaper columns Francis Wheen referred to an audience in Florida he has never actually met as ‘ghastly,’ and Nick Cohen said the arrival of ‘United States style casinos’ in Britain would herald rampant prostitution, crime, money laundering and drug traffic. Somehow I cannot see the ladies who daily pack the casino buses to Atlantic City skirting those hordes of hookers, crackheads and money launderers…

Then, the Mayor of London said the United States Ambassador to the Court of St James, Robert Tuttle, was behaving like a ‘chiselling little crook’ because his Embassy owed Congestion Charge fines. Mayor Ken Livingstone had announced that he would pursue the guilty parties at the American Embassy all the way to the courts, but did not make any poisonous pronouncements about the other fifty-four embassies and consulates owing thousands in Congestion penalties, which many diplomats regard as a tax. Legations in Washington, DC are exempt from the District’s taxes, so, they argue, why should they be taxed in London?

Then came the visit of US Secretary of State Dr Condoleezza Rice to the Blackburn constituency of her British counterpart, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Whatever liberals and Democrats may think of her, the angry protests and the surly children at the school she visited simply left observers with an impression of a miserably rude and churlish British populace behaving like a medieval mob. One Muslim representative called for her execution. Small children shouting mean epithets and carrying confrontational placards, and youngsters inside the school hanging their heads and refusing to talk to Dr Rice were shameful moments in Anglo-American relations.

Let’s face it: as Dr Rice commented recently there are no Western governments who can boast of having had people of colour in their senior cabinet and Joint Chiefs for years, as has the United States. Find me a British woman who is an accomplished classical pianist, a linguist, a scholar and diplomat who also adores sport; instead of sending their little girls out to screech abuse at Condi Rice, the people of Blackburn might have considered exposing their children to this remarkable woman as a role model. When I suggested as much to a fellow journalist who is also a supporter of the antiwar movement, he said he would not have his children sit in the same room as a war criminal.

What was so admirable about Dr Rice’s visit was her ability to keep her dignity and to rise above the ugly scenes that plagued her visits to Liverpool and Blackburn. The Lord Mayor of Blackburn, Ysuf Jan Virma, greeted her and then went outside to the demonstrators and waved his arms to goad them on. His encouragement led their shouts to drown out the press conference she was trying to hold with Jack Straw. The fury of the crowds in Liverpool and Blackburn was palpable. It was ugly and repugnant. The crowds in Birmingham, Alabama had given Jack Straw an ecstatic welcome wherever he went. Why could this generosity of spirit not have been reciprocated?

This article opened with a comment about being an American in the UK. On 28 March I had an experience I will not soon forget. It ties in with the Condi Rice story. Having just had a close call in Edgware Road during a freak mini-gale when a falling glass store sign had narrowly missed decapitating me, I decided to go into the Green Man pub to recover my composure and have a drink to celebrate my narrow brush with the Grim Reaper. For some reason that to this moment I still cannot fathom, the portly publican refused to give me the time of day and treated me as if I were a black trying to purchase food in a Mississippi diner in 1955. I asked him why he was being so unfriendly to me and he continued to scowl at me, muttering something to the effect that he did not have to talk to me at all. I tried to chat to some other mature Englishmen in the pub but got the same hostile looks. Wow! Is this what the world can expect when it pours into London for the 2012 Olympics?

What would possess an Englishman whose establishment is there to serve the public to treat a well-dressed, cheerful and dignified middle-aged WASP woman, a cross between Dawn French and Victoria Wood, with such deplorable contempt? Perhaps the pub landlord thought I looked Jewish. Perhaps he thought, despite my midlantic accent, that I sounded like an American who would be demanding. I thought to myself, 'This is what it must have felt like being an African-American in the Deep South in the 1950s.' Whatever that beastly publican thought, his behaviour would be unthinkable in any bar across the USA in 2006. I will not soon forget this incident. If this is what Britain is becoming, we have a serious problem on our hands.

Finally, whatever people may think of Americans, is it not shameful that Wembley Stadium has now had to cancel yet more events because the construction of the new venue is so far behind and may even be sinking from subsidence into its earthen foundations? In the short time I was in Washington I watched a new Metro station, New York Avenue, rise up, not to mention the subway station under the World Trade Centre.

Tony Blair addressed the Australian Parliament last week and made an impassioned plea to Britons back home to curb the wave of anti-Americanism that he calls a 'madness.' It is hard to be an American in Britain with the daily hail of ridicule about how bestial, stupid and idiotic they are, but having just sat through a stunning documentary about the Hoover Dam -- ‘it will last another 2,000 years’ -- one feels a bit more humility and a bit less arrogance might suit London before 2012 is upon us. That is, if the Olympic stadium ever gets built in time.


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