Pootling down the hill, the pizza moped delivery driver is steering with one hand and assiduously picking his nose with the other.
At the bottom of the hill, the neighbour who looks like a very plump version of Kaiser Franz Josef of Austria- Hungary – all shiny bald head fringed with gigantic mutton chop whiskers blending into a walrus mustache – says good morning as he sits half out of his Mercedes trying to psyche himself up to walk to his front door.
Every time I go to the chemists – now I am a pensioner I qualify for a loyalty card – the head pharmacist – a man who sees his job as to get to know everyone, not just transact with them – always sees me looking up at the news, silently blurbing on from the TV above the counter, and asks me “what’s going on?” Brexit of course. He is very nervous about his supply of medicines, as my daughter’s employer at the bakery is concerned about his supply of flour – which comes via the EU because British flour isn’t of high enough quality. I go off about Johnson being boxed in by Parliament, his majority and Party in tatters but – with Parliament about to be prorogued – still in office and going for no deal with far less scrutiny. Other customers look on a bit bemused. If the worst predictions of Operation Yellowhammer come to pass, they will be angry.
On the way down to the shops on Saturday and there’s an unusual stall being set up with an air of bustling importance outside the Saaqi Mall – a collection of tiny cubicle emporiums carved out of a bankrupt shoe shop, selling sugar cane ground into juice through a mangle, the world’s smallest jewelers, a place that teaches Maths and English (one person at a time presumably, given the space) and has a side line in Visas, a tiny travel agents and a few sad vacant spaces. The three men on it are giving out cups of tea from an ornate looking samovar and distributing snacks.
Next door, outside the shop where you can wire money back to relatives who need it more, another guy is sitting peacefully in front of a huge black banner thick as a carpet emblazoned with enormous Arabic letters in bright scarlet; designed to look as though they are dripping blood. This is quite alarming, so I go over and ask him what it is. He removes his camouflaged ear muffs – the army surplus of a very considerate militia – smiles broadly and says “Hussein. Imam Hussein.” So, its Muharram.
Muharram is when the Shia become visible. Cars fly white flags with Arabic writing in red. The Sim Sim bakery and other shops shut and sellotape posters to their shutters.