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Silence Exile and Crumpets
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Sunday, August 13th, 2006

Time Event
How things happen
I had a salutary reminder this evening of what violence is like in the real world, and how you miss much of it even when it sort of happens to you.

I was sitting on the District Line train back from seeing Rob and Avedon and in a corner of the carriage reading a scholarly article about the post-Columbian plagues in Mesoamerica. And tutting to myself about the inadequacy of the author's model of how disease takes a society apart.

I was, of course, wearing my reading glasses, that stigmata of intellectual middle age.

Quite suddenly there were about six young AfroCaribbean men crowded into the last few feet of the carriage- and then one of them was flung out of the way and four of them started beating the fifth.
He fell onto the floor, via my lapm and they started kicking him, and he was trying to fend off their feet with wild kicking of his own. Both he and his chief assailant kicked me quite hard in the shins and knees, and it wasn't in any sense personal - it was as if they weren't even aware that I was there. After a bit, he crawled to the opposite corner and they moved in for serious stomping.

I scurried past them to the safety of the rest of the carriage, which was, incidentally, more or less full. I luckily did not think to use the camera on my mobile phone, but then, no more did anyone else.

The thing is, these were guys who would clearly kill. I hope they didn't kill him or maim him - there was blood on the floor when they left, dragging him with them, at the next station. And I think the transport police caught them on the stairs, so obviously the CCTV was working.

When they cleared us off the train, they did not ask for witnesses - and the awful thing is that because it happened so quickly and because I had reading glasses on, I would not be all that good a witness even though it happened literally on top of me. I couldn't even say for certain whether the ringleader was wearing a white jacket with a black stripe down the arm, or the other way around.

It was a reminder of how little we actually know about important things when they happen to us.

I had a real sense of being in mortal danger, and I ran away and I did not get involved. I don't even know what it was about, because though they were all shouting at each other, it was in patois so thick I have no idea what they were talking about.

I was going to post about Iraq, and terrorism, and Islam. And perhaps I just did.

Sometimes life throws metaphors at you.

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