Sunday, 24 May 2009

Not the Bad Guys

It's just after midday and I'm waiting at the depot of a large courier firm on the outskirts of Llanelli, in South Wales.

I arrived here to collect a van which turned out to have a flat tyre and a defective clutch, and so I'm now sitting in the canteen waiting to see if the van is to be repaired or the job aborted.

It's dinner hour here and the small canteen is fairly full. On a table in front of me a couple of youngish guys are bent over a laptop. I can't see what's on the screen but the room is being filled with noises from some martial arts game - cartoon punches interspersed with Oriental cries and exclamations.

On another table five guys are playing cards and chatting. They talk quietly with strong Welsh accents, meaning that apart from the odd intriguing snippet – ‘four grand on his fucking head’ – the only things I can reliably hear above the noise from the laptop are the frequent ‘fuck’s which pepper their conversation.

On the next table a breakaway group of two men is playing a different card game which involves keeping score by moving matchsticks along a small piece of wood.

A couple of other guys have tables to themselves and sit reading papers.

When you sit in a place like this and nobody takes any notice of you it can be hard to tell at first whether this is because the atmosphere is so laid back that no-one really cares who you are, or whether people are being collectively rude. But everyone I have needed to speak to about the van has been disarmingly friendly and helpful.

It's all too easy these days for people who need an acceptable prejudice in their lives to demonise the white working class, and if the BNP make progress in next month's elections it will probably become easier still.

But even though I hate that mentality with a passion, I've been in enough workplaces like this to expect that in a group of a dozen white guys there would probably be one individual, either too cocky or too sullen, who could be relied upon to chip in the odd racist remark or piece of bitter misogeny.

But somehow I can't imagine that happening here. Even though all I can really hear are violent sound effects and profanity, the conversations seem to flow in such a relaxed way, and people smile too often to suggest that any of them really need an enemy in their lives.

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