Dark Clouds

I suppose I take after my mother in being forthright in giving my opinion and in not suffering fools lightly. Unfortunately, the world is full of fools and, unfortunately, there have been times when I have kept my thought and opinions to myself, but later regretted doing so. On those occasions, for the most part, I was persuaded to remain quiet by someone in the false belief that silence was the best way to maintain peace. Let me give you an example.

One evening several friends had joined my wife and I in enjoying a meal at a local restaurant. It was a busy Saturday night, and the small restaurant was packed with diners. At a table beside ours sat two couples who became engaged in quite a loud exchange of views. They were probably the “worst for wear” after a night’s drinking at a nearby hostelry, but this was no excuse for the language being used or the views being expressed. Although I had my back to them it was impossible for me to avoid hearing what they said and the resentment it caused me.

“I went to the doctors this morning,” one of the men began and then continued. “The damn place was full of foreigners. There were “Pakis”, “Poles”. Portuguese, “Chinks”, Blacks and God only knows who else. It’s not any wonder that it takes so long for us to get an appointment when all these foreigners come here to get free medical treatment!”

“I agree”, replied the other man. “They come here take our jobs and now take our National Health Service that we pay for. Every week in the papers you see how many of them are involved in various crimes in the area. It’s a bloody disgrace! Just what the hell is the government doing?”

Meanwhile, the anger within me grew. My wife, always very perceptive, knew what was happening. The conversation at the next table had completely distracted me from our own company and the more warming discussion they were having about their families. Touching my hand softly with hers, she gently whispered advice to me. “Just ignore them. They are not worth you troubling yourself.”

There are several things that I dislike, and loud, disagreeable people are high on the list. Racism and Sectarianism are at about the same level. In a nation where racism was virtually unknown it as grown quickly in the last decade or so since the European Union opened its borders to free travel between citizens of the member states. Twenty years ago, in Northern Ireland, one would have hardly ever seen a black person. In my own hometown the only persons of colour one would have seen at that time were the family that ran the local Chinese restaurant. Moreover, outside of these Chinese people, whenever one would hear someone speaking in a foreign language, they could be almost sure that they were tourists. All of this has now changed, and the country has become more cosmopolitan with people from every land and culture now residing here among us. But not all of my countrymen appreciate the presence of these “outsiders”. With the rise of racism and right-wing extremism crimes of hate have become ever more frequent in our society, much to our shame.

In normal circumstances I would have assumed that racism, like sectarianism, was a past-time of those with a very low I.Q. I have, however, discovered that this is not necessarily and accurate assumption on my part. Yet I sat at my table with my wife and friends, smiling and being sociable while those at the table behind me continued their loud and vile discussion. Still, I “bit my tongue” and kept my own counsel.  “If I don’t know them, then why should I interfere?” I asked myself.  Some might say that I should not have been listening to their conversation, and yet how could I avoid listening when they spoke so loudly. It was as if they wanted to share their vile opinions with the whole restaurant. Even as I sat there my conscience seemed to recall the words, “Evil men prosper when good men do and say nothing.”

Finally, we finished our meal and we prepared to leave the restaurant after paying our bill. As I stood up from my chair, I decided to glance at those sitting behind us. To say that I was shocked by what I saw there is actually putting it quite mildly. The two “gentlemen” sitting at that table were both known to me. They were both teachers at a local school and one of them was a lay minister in the Church. The red-headed man spoke to me, saying – “Hi Jim! How are things?”

I gave him a look of disgust and then replied to his question – “Do I know you? I do not normally recognise people who speak as you do!” My retort appeared to have the desired affect and I said it just loud enough so that all the diners would hear me. My wife and I immediately walked away with our friends to pay our bill and leave. Since that time, I have always found myself warmly received by the staff at “The Golden Dragon” Chinese restaurant.

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