Hidden Depths

There has been a kerfuffle in Buckingham Palace where an elderly white lady of noble standing was talking to an ethnic African lady and started asking her questions about her ethnic origins. Issues of colour are very much issues in modern Britain. In today’s Guardian the lead story is of the Metropolitan Police apologising to two black skinned brothers for humiliation and wrongful arrest.


The conversation in the Palace reminded me of a story in my father’s life that took place about forty years ago. My dad had gone into the ‘Welcome Traveller’ public house in Tyldesley, an old coalmining town ten miles outside Manchester. He was an old man now and out for a stroll and a quiet pint. On this day as he sat at the bar a man came into the pub, and in my father’s words he was as black as coal. And like coal he was not just black but shiny black, just like Sadio Mane, the Senagalese footballer. The two men got into conversation.


As they talked my father was itching to know this man’s origins. My father had travelled the world a bit, seeing India and Iraq and Lebanon and north Africa, before going on the expedition to Normandy in June 1944. But as he said to me, you don’t like asking people questions. It can seem rude. So he thought he would come at it sideways and put his question in the form of a statement that invited response.


So at a given moment in the conversation, my dad said, ‘You’re not from round here, are you?’ That was a good and gentle way of inquiry he reckoned. The man answered him happily.  ‘No,’ he said, ‘I’m not.” And after a pause, ‘I’m from Salford.’


Brian Fahy

1 December 2022  


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