Kebabs for World Peace

January 22, 2008
So the home secretary Jacqui Smith doesn’t feel safe on the streets of London.  If it hadn’t been for those pesky hoodies… Perhaps it would be better if Smith had lied – or at least followed the example of many Westminster colleagues by simply not answering questions put to her. That’s how our democracy works best.

If Ms Smith’s response about feeling safe was a little naïve, then the supplementary comment to The Sunday Times from an aide appeared utterly ridiculous. “Smith had recently bought a kebab in Peckham” at night, so that makes it alright.

I can’t remember ever actually buying a kebab in Peckham, but in the early 1990’s I was a regular in kebab houses in New Cross, just a mile up the Queens Road. And maybe the home secretary knew exactly what she was doing – kebabs have special powers in South East London.

When a student I left The Venue one evening (in the days when it was less preoccupied with confiscating chewing gum to protect the carpet, and more interested in live music) to pay a regular visit to the kebab shop nearby. Armed with doners, my friend Dickie and I were crossing the main road towards Lewisham, when we were confronted by a couple having a domestic on the large central traffic island. The young man’s rage had been directed at a particularly unfortunate flower bed, but, as we approached, he left the begonias alone and started to shove his female companion, before aiming a punch at her.

In the time it took for me to start tucking my kebab safely inside its paper bag, intending to place it carefully on the kerbside ready for action, Dickie had rushed over to the stricken couple, and, with one hand, pulled the man away.

“Leave ‘er alone, mate.” It was his toughest saaarff London accent.
“What’s it to do with you, you four-eyed git?” retorted the attacker, who, as he turned round, I now saw looked considerably harder than us.

A swinging right arm levelled itself towards Dickie, hitting him sharp on the cheek with a thud that halted my attempts to rescue the lettuce that was perilously close to tumbling out of its protective pitta. Dickie, his glasses flying off, reacted by jettisoning his kebab, which, until the punch, had remained tightly in his grip. All four of us watched in silence as the doner flew up above into the air. In slow motion it reached a peak, flipped 180 degrees, and then began to gather pace on its downward journey as pieces of salad and meat began to spray the attacker. With a gentle splat, the rapidly emptying pitta bread landed directly on our assailant’s head.

The chilli sauce now dribbling down his face seemed to defuse the young man’s anger. He turned immediately to his girlfriend:
“Sorry love. Don’t know what got into me.”
“That’s alright baby.” She gave him a hug, and they walked off, without another word or even a glance at us.

Dickie’s kebab was by now in pieces on the pavement. I let him have my chips, and we wandered home, somewhat unsettled. The next morning there was a colourful bruise on the side of his face, but no glasses. He found them later, sitting on the flower bed back at the traffic lights, where some kind soul, probably wearing a hooded top, had carefully placed them. Our saviour, the kebab, had vanished.