Low life

‘I’m a racist. My sister’s a racist. We’re all racists here’

An opportunity to voice the most extreme opinions — of the left or right — that I can think of

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

My sister has a new man in her life: Henry, 60. He lives in a gay hotel. Or rather, it was a gay hotel in the era when homosexuality was illegal; now the Victorian seaside villa is empty save for my sister’s new boyfriend, my sister sometimes, and a transvestite maid called Rita. Sometimes he is a porter called Stan. One never knows from day to day whether he is going to appear as a male or a female, and one has to be careful not to make any rash assumptions because he becomes apoplectic if one addresses him as Stan when he is Rita, for example. But when he is Rita, says my sister, it is usually blindingly obvious, because he wears a microskirt, black net stockings and suspenders.

I didn’t get to meet my sister’s new boyfriend immediately. For about a month I only heard her talking about him. Clearly, she was very taken with the guy because she thinned down, glammed up, and her mood switched somewhat startlingly from depression to elation. She was a different person. All she wanted to do was sing Henry’s praises. He was her sun, moon and stars. Oh, I’d like him, she said. Such an interesting, well-travelled guy and such fun. He has lived abroad most of his life: Peru, Laos, Mexico, Colombia, Thailand. And these are just his favourites. Name a country — any country — and he’s been there. Because he infringed the law in some unspecified but perhaps easily guessable way, he is no longer allowed into the United States. He returned to the UK two years ago to punt the hotel, which he inherited from his father. This is proving more difficult than he imagined. He is missing abroad and restless, she said. But he really wants to meet you.

‘But he really wants to meet you.’ The dreaded, inevitable phrase. I dread it because my sister must big me up out of all proportion to the reality. Introductions to her new boyfriends always smack uncomfortably of diplomatic choreography; of credentials humbly presented by the dashing envoy of a rising power to an indifferent mandarin official of a great one. My sister ushers them into my presence, introduces them and discreetly withdraws, leaving us to talk man to man. Now an old hand at these occasions, I seize the opportunity to voice the most extreme opinions, either of the left or of the right, that I can think of.

When the day came, she wheeled a chap into the kitchen who looked how the Seventies glam rocker Marc Bolan might have looked had he survived the car crash and made it to 60. Big, curly, floppy hair, and the air of the laid-back veteran rock star reduced to Buddhism, unsure of which day of the week it is. For the occasion, he was prinked up in a broad country-check tweed jacket, trousers so tight you could see whether or not he was circumcised and pointy, shiny, caramel-coloured dress shoes. ‘Jeremy: Henry,’ said my sister. Then she left us to it.

I offered tea. Henry had brought his own refreshment. He produced a bottle of red wine, ripped off the screw top like a man possessed, tipped out a glassful of wine and tossed back half of it. ‘I’ve got to sit down,’ he said, falling backwards into a chair at the kitchen table. I joined him, liking him straight away. The face was kindly, resigned and crimson. ‘So where next, Henry?’ I said. ‘Somewhere where there’s opium,’ he said dejectedly. ‘I love opium but I can’t get it around here. Where can I go where there’s opium?’ ‘India?’ I ventured. He rebuffed the idea of going to India by screwing up his face as against driving sleet. We sat silently for a moment, thinking about where was best to go for opium. Suddenly he said, ‘Mexico!’ At the thought of Mexico his sun came out. ‘Man, I love Mexico. I love everything about it. I lived there. Have you ever been to Mexico?’ I shook my head decisively. ‘Oh man,’ he implored. ‘You must go.’

Then he made a statement about the infinite possibilities of Mexico that might possibly be interpreted by a stickler for that kind of thing as a racist statement, and he immediately retracted it and apologised. I looked at him levelly. He held my eyes guiltily. I asked him why he was apologising. ‘Well, I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was a closet racist,’ he said. I looked at him in astonishment. ‘What’s wrong with being a racist?’ I said. He thought for a while, then he said, ‘Well, I don’t feel superior to anyone — particularly.’ ‘Don’t you worry, old son,’ I said, opening my arms to welcome him to the family. ‘I’m a racist. My sister’s a racist. We’re all racists here. You carry on and be as racist as you like.’

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  • Roger Hudson

    Excellent. I’d begun to think that, with the notable exception of Rod Liddle, people weren’t writing humour any more.

    • GraveDave

      Yes, has he done a ‘Muslim savage update’ yet?

    • Roger Hudson

      I don’t agree!

  • George Smiley

    Drug convictions and racism? Has Jeremy begun channelling the author of the neighbouring column?

  • blandings

    How do you get to meet such interesting people without a mad sister?
    Years ago my sister-in-law (ish) brought home some guy because he looked vaguely like Jim Morrison.
    He said he was so desperate that he would sleep with any woman, even if she was over forty which, at the time, was pretty insulting to the sister-in-law.

    It took a group effort to throw him out.

    • ardenjm

      Just make them up.
      It’s only a small step from their mythomania anyway.

  • Cim Thayne

    Truly, High Life and Low Life are what make the Spectator so great. Long may they continue.

  • PhilJ2011

    Not sure what I just read but the name Jeremy Clarke is noted and I wont be going there again.

    Self indulgent dribble.

  • Terrified

    Oh boy…

  • GraveDave

    I hear Oisin the leprechaun is suing your ar se Jeremy. Why couldn’t you have just hit him and left his shamrocks out of it.

  • whorya

    I like it… Intelligent drivel..

  • Stephen Griffiths

    I’ve never considered myself to be remotely racist. I never assaulted or verbally used any minority when it was all the rage when I was a teenager. I’ve always steered away from anyone overtly racist.
    But (I can always spot a but coming from 20 paces) now I’m in my 50’s I have started to recognise differences in races,in their attitudes to cultural matters,religious outlooks, in what they consider to be criminal,in their attitude to their own minorities etc. There are definitely “differences” between various races.
    Does that make me a racist?

    • Indescribably so. I lived near Heathrow in the 60s, as the area became progressively enriched. I remember playing with Indian boys my own age (about 6 – 7) completely innocently and with no sense of difference, or none that mattered. I remember a group of English friends and I of various ages wandering around the area I lived in slightly later. As we wandered through a subway an Asian boy of maybe 15 came from the other direction. As we past, the smallest boy among us, the younger brother of someone, suddenly started screaming. I didn’t see it, but apparently the Asian boy had kicked him in the stomach. Our group leader, the oldest at about 10 I think, challenged the Asian kid and got a back hander across the mouth which poured with blood. Fortunately at that point a couple of men entered the subway and the Asian kid sprinted off. By this time (about 1970) they had occupied entire streets. I remember also, one evening, waiting at the bus stop in the pouring rain with my sisters and parents to go to the cinema (most likely either Tora, Tora, Tora or Diamonds are Forever, I can remember seeing both) when an Asian man we didn’t know from Adam stopped his car to offer us a lift. He seemed so kind and his manner so generous and gentle, that my Dad accepted. Nothing untoward happened, he was just a kind man.

      During the Indian/Pakistani war in 1971, we had one rather scrawny and bespectacled Pakistani boy and a sizable contingent of Indians in school. In one of the incidents I am most proud of, the Pakistani boy was being bullied and I stood up for him and protected him. The point being, I am undoubtedly racist, but I don’t care. It doesn’t make me a bad person. I don’t even aspire not to be racist. I aspire to be like the Good Samaritan. I aspire to recognise the common humanity of someone in pain or need, regardless of their origins and provide for them where I can. If I could wave a magic wand and unravel the multicultural mess of modern Britain, and the nest of lies upon lies that we tell ourselves about it, I would do it in a heartbeat.

    • Todd Unctious

      Stephen .Old age affords you knowledge of varied cultures. You realise that Russians and Greeks trust nobody. That Nigerians tell lies. This is cultural difference, not racism.

  • MathMan

    I think the Evening Standard is racist because every evening they headline stories about black youths stabbing people.

  • Nitro1211

    Only white people are racist.

    • Todd Unctious

      ISIS are racist. They have no real affinity with the Islamic faith, they are violent fascist thugs.

    • SonOfTheIsles

      That’s what makes us so superior.

      I have witnessed non-white attempts at racism and frankly it “sucks balls”.

      Listening to a Malaysian using the N word is rather tedious.

      • Nitro1211

        No…you are not superior…..this is the white lie.

        • SonOfTheIsles

          You must hate yourself.

          • Nitro1211

            Not at all…….but you are to arrogant and stupid to realize you should hate yourself….sad race of people.

          • SonOfTheIsles

            At least I can spell.

            If anything we are a tired people.

            Tired of being blamed for things which are not our fault.

            For example, Africans were slave trading Africans long before white people turned up. Even the muslim Arabs had entered that market before we gave it a go.

            We are blamed for everything when other races are no better. It almost makes me want to convert to islam just to hear a good gay joke again. Ask a muslim and see.

            We are all human and any human that says they do not look for differences in people is a hypocrite and you are such a person.

          • Nitro1211

            This is actually true…….we are not so mad about what happened in the past…..the problem is white people are STILL doing it……….i wrote this the other day and you tell me if it still exist in America…….

            Racism is composed of 3 things:Ideology,Imposition and Institutional Arrangement.

            Ideology: A value or belief

            Imposition: Means to force

            Institutional Arrangement: Laws and government polices

            The ideology (The LIE of white supremacy) would not be enforceable (Imposition/ could not be imposed) without the institutional arrangement…

            That institutional arrangement gives white people the POWER to impact ALL aspects of Black American lives:


            So what this means is if you remove the ideology the belief that white people are superior…..you have to remove the word RACE….and all you have is the -ism….if you remove the imposition and/or the institution then you have to remove the -ism and all you would have is the word RACE.

            This is for the people who want to know what it is…the people that think they know what it is….and the people that LIE about what it is.