In the Halal butchers down by Kingsbury Circle, there are large faded black and white framed photos of two men from another time and place. Mohamed Ali Jinnah, staring straight at you, intense and cancer thin in his Astrakhan hat and Sherbani. Qaid i Azam (Father of the Nation), whose saintly status was assured by dying so soon after Pakistan was founded, so he couldn’t carry the can for anything that actually happened after it was. Alongside him, and staring in a profile like a head on a coin, somehow deferential but distant, and – with his whip sharp moustache – looking like Omar Sharif’s even more glamorous grandfather, no less than two pictures of a man we didn’t know. A friendly butcher, meat cleaver in one hand, bright Union Jack mask across his face, catches our curiosity and tells us that this is “Dr Iqbal. Dr Iqbal” – so good they named him twice – poet and early advocate of Pakistan as a separate state; who died nine years before it was set up in the horrors of Partition and therefore even more saintly. I remember this butchers at the time of the 2011 riots. Although nothing had kicked off locally, most shops were shuttered, some that remained open had their staff nervously hovering at the door, waiting for the images from their TV screens to roll down the High Street; which they never did. In the butchers there was none of that. Just a dozen or so of them all lined up hacking lamb into chops with machetes; reasonably confident that no one would be bothering them.
A sign on the Wembley Gospel Church – just opposite VBs cash and carry – “Toilets are for use of worshippers only”. One definition of heaven. Relief for the elect.
All along the main drag in Alperton, the shops and cafes are stuttering back into life. The smart masked young woman at Masala Bowl takes down J’s details when we drop in for some Papri Chaat and Masala Tea, but not mine. I guess we look like a couple. Outside they have strings of tiny lights which must look magical at night when you can’t see the rest of the street.
All the Sari shops have crowded displays using an eclectic collection of macabre looking second or third hand mannikins. The contrast between the gorgeous fabrics – all bold, fresh colours, striking designs and rich decoration – and the washed out, oddly bewigged and battered figures wearing them is disturbing; as if these are display windows full of beautifully dressed corpses.
In the Medical Centre in Chaplin Road, seats are carefully spaced two metres apart and – to keep them there – a square of black and yellow hazard tape marks them off from each other in splendid isolation. On patient one box. It feels like a mental force field. Like one of those games you play as a child. Step over the tape and you fall into a lake of lava. The spaces in between are for official use only.
Looking out of the window of the 204 bus on the way back home, and in the front window of a standard suburban semi is a startlingly larger than life size statue of Jesus – presumably retrieved from a Catholic Church close down sale – everything must go! The curtains are drawn behind him, so he has no contemporary hinterland. He looks serious, as well he might, and holds his hand up in a benediction that also looks like someone shy giving a half hearted wave. His view of the sign at the Gospel Church remains unspoken.