Peter Rhodes on racism in the street, a surfeit of emails and Wolverhampton's unknown author

Months ago, when we sent back the council's electoral-roll form, I ticked a box requesting no contact by emails. I have just received a reply from the council telling us that in response to my earlier request, we will not be getting any more emails. It came by email.

Jack Bevan – craftsmanship
Jack Bevan – craftsmanship

The email was addressed to “council resident,” not to my name, so I was suspicious. It looked like a scam. I emailed the council. They contacted me to say it was genuine. By email, naturally

In the past few days, I've read two war memoirs, both by sensitive, educated men who served as officers in the front line. The first is Siegfried Sassoon's Memoirs of an Infantry officer. The second is Through the Donkey's Ears: A Gunner's War by Jack Bevan, of Wolverhampton. Sassoon's book is an acclaimed, best-selling classic. Bevan's book is virtually unknown. But in my opinion, it is a finer book than Sassoon's.

I came to know Jack Bevan in the 1990s. A retired teacher, academic, translator of Italian poetry and fly fisherman, he lived a gentle, cultured existence in Tettenhall. He gave me a copy of Through the Donkey's Ears and I skimmed through it. Twenty-odd years later, I picked it up again and was stunned by the fluid craftsmanship of his poems and his ability to recall, and describe in needle-sharp detail, his encounters with the best and worst of the human condition, from soldiers sharing their rations with hungry civilians, to the hideous aftermath of a Nazi massacre in occupied Italy. This is as much a classic of the Second World War as Sassoon's book is of the First. Jack Bevan deserves recognition in Wolverhampton and beyond.

I haven't witnessed much unashamed, noisy racism in public places for a while but in the queue outside a surgery I heard: “Wasser matter with you? Can't you read English?” You can only enter the surgery when the previous customer, in this case a middle-aged Asian man, has left. He paused to read a signboard in the lobby, which was too much for the next patient, a crewcut 60-something white man. “Can't you read English?” he repeated, adding with a patronising sneer. “You want me to read it for you?” The Asian man clicked his tongue in irritation and walked off.

None of us in the queue said a word. Why not? Because it was all over so quickly. Because we don't want to get involved. Because it's a surgery and you have no idea what condition Mr Crewcut has, or what medication he's on. So as he strode into the building, Mr Crewcut probably thought we all shared his views. And that's the worst bit.

As winter approaches I invested in a full length waterproof walking coat. I thought it was rather dashing in a Duke of Edinburgh sort of way. Until a friend observed: “What's that, then, an abattoir gown?” Funny how a name can stick.

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