A sacred cow makes the best burger. I've always remembered that graffiti from a toilet door in Portsmouth when I was a student there more than 30 years ago. For some reason this morning I woke up with an incident in my head from a festival last summer. A festival I'll be off to this year, too. I was standing in a queue for hot chocolate and chips with my daughter. It was late and cold. Something made me turn around and the guy behind me said "salaam aleikum." I replied with "hello". He repeated his greeting increasingly aggressively and I repeated my reply initially confused and then it dawned on me what he was doing. It took four repeats for him to give up. I could smell alcohol on his breath and he had a packet of Golden Virginia in his shirt pocket.
I didn't give the traditional Muslim reply for two reasons. Firstly because his greeting was not given in peace, but mostly because I am not religious. I will use it with families I know, to be polite, but something about this man made me very uncomfortable and my instinct proved right - he was chippy and looking for a fight. (Why does that remind me of George Bush and the way he's always used his religion, I wonder?)
How easily they can happen. A friend of my son was down for the weekend from London. He's a teenager and a target for stressed-out city dwellers whether they're his peers or older. He was amazed at how chilled out this seaside town is! It made me re-evaluate the place and last night I went up to the racecourse with my son. We looked east towards Rottingdean, over Whitehawk, so neatly arranged in the dip. We looked west towards Worthing and I realised how self-contained our home is. We could see the Downs behind the city, empty of buildings and lights. The sea was clear and the sky a band of pink and grey with interruptions of darker grey where it was raining.
Where we stood was once an iron age fort. Its position is perfect. We talked about the weekend and him turning 16. As a teenager I loved to walk with my mum. Talking was so much easier with that rhythm going. I guess it was talking about stress, race and religion that jogged my memory of the festival, plus the fact that some of the friends he's met there were down for his birthday. What amazing young people they are - confident, bright, respectful, articulate and sensitive - and they put many adults to shame.
The poem "Lucretian" by Peter Reading is one of my favourites on religion. I've quoted a verse below. This appears in his Collected Poems published by Bloodaxe in 1996. Buy it.
remember the slaughter at Aulis
when innocent Iphigeneia
was sacrificed by her own father,
deluded devout Agamemnon,
who thought that to summon a breeze
which would speed his fleet to Troy
he must first placate bloodthirsty Artemis
with a welter of gore and guts
and the mumbo-jumbo and cleavers
of a pack of murderous priests...
(Remember, also, Khomeini
and Tomas de Torquemada.)
How much idiot evil
gormless theists engender."