Brian Viner: 'Accusations of racial abuse are the latest chapter of a refuse saga'

Share
Related Topics

Rubbish is the new Leylandii, the principal source of antagonism between neighbours in this green and pleasant, if increasingly litter-strewn, land. Take our friend Annabel (not her real name), as indeed two policemen did last week, after her (black) French neighbour had accused her of bellowing racist abuse from an upstairs window, the latest and most dramatic chapter of a refuse saga that has polluted their quiet, affluent cul-de-sac these last few months. Affluent, after all, is but a letter away from effluent.

But first let me describe Annabel, a woman for whom the adjectives "genteel" and "middle-class" might have been invented. Which is not to say that genteel, middle-class white women are incapable of racism, more's the pity, but I can say without the slightest equivocation that Annabel is the least bigoted of women, and would in my estimation no sooner use the N-word she had been accused of using than leave the house without make-up. Indeed, for as long as she has been telling her friends about the growing contretemps with her neighbour, she has never mentioned the woman's colour. It was irrelevant, at least until last week.

The source of the trouble is a communal bin area, in which binbags are habitually dumped days before the refuse lorry's weekly visit, by which time the contents have been scattered by foxes. The main miscreants are apparently the residents with young children, because the strewn rubbish usually includes soiled nappies. For months, Annabel has been fighting a lone battle to clean the area, and also to encourage the neighbours to keep their binbags in their wheelie-bins until the morning the binmen arrive. Her campaign has taken the form of several letters, which she has variously signed, in an attempt to lighten the tone, Mrs Victor Meldrew and Hyacinth Bucket.

Alas, these noms-de-plume appear to have antagonised her French neighbour, who had previously been a friend to the extent that the families had lunched at each other's houses, but who turned up on the doorstep one day seemingly spoiling for a fight, and at one point jabbing her in the nose with a finger, which Annabel, while declining to make an official complaint, reported to the community police officer. Obviously we at Home and Away only have one side of the story, but I have seen copies of the letters and they are irreproachably courteous.

Last Thursday morning, however, Annabel's doorbell rang. It was two policemen who arrested her, without fully explaining why. Upset and bewildered, but conscious even in such an anxious state of her grooming requirements, she asked if she could first have a shower and apply her eyeliner. They let her do so. She was then led from the house, wearing a pink dress with matching accessories, and driven to the local police station, where she was fingerprinted, DNA-sampled, and read her rights. She was told she would be taken to a holding cell, but asked them if they wouldn't mind awfully holding her elsewhere, having overheard that the cell had just been the scene of "a dirty protest". She was placed in the custody suite.

In relating the story, Annabel invokes another much-loved sitcom character. It was, she cheerfully concedes, like the arrest of Margot Leadbetter, especially when she was offered her one statutory phone call, and chose to phone her hairdresser, asking if she could put back her appointment that afternoon and, having not had time to do her nails, whether there was perchance a manicurist available. "Most people phone a solicitor," said the arresting officer. "My husband's a solicitor," Annabel replied. "I don't need another one."

When eventually she was interviewed she robustly denied calling her neighbour anything, and explained the rubbish imbroglio. The police duly decided that there was no case to answer. She was released without charge, but also without apology. How, she asked them, was she supposed to get home? That, they implied, was her problem. Nevertheless, a paragon of courtesy to the last, she shook their hands and thanked them for their time.

It is a tale with comic overtones but underlying seriousness, or perhaps serious overtones but underlying comedy. Either way, as a modern English morality tale it has almost everything: accusations of racism, a cul-de-sac, the Metropolitan Police, urban foxes, a hairdressing salon, DNA, and of course the essential ingredient, wheelie-bins.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: With 100 days still to go how will Cameron, Miliband and Co. keep us all engaged?

Andrew Grice
A solar energy farm in France  

Nature Studies: For all the attractions of solar power, it shouldn’t blight the countryside

Michael McCarthy
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea