BY Alison Bellamy
I caught a taxi recently, from Dewsbury train station. I enjoy talking to taxi drivers where possible as they have their ears to the ground and know what is going on in the community, so are often a good source of news, which I am always looking out for.
Most of the taxi drivers in the small West Yorkshire town, which is about 12 miles from Leeds, are Asian, I am told. The small market town, once a thriving shopping attraction, is now over run with bookies, charity shops and discount stores.
The area is often the butt of derivative jokes, or labelled in some of the national media as the run-down town where young terrorists are groomed or where kidnap victim Shannon Matthews comes from.
I sometimes feel defensive as I think home is where the heart is and there are good and bad people everywhere, whatever their race, religion or beliefs.
The chatty, young private hire driver with a Geordie accent was keen to talk. He was probably around 19.
‘I can’t believe I’m back to sharing a bunk bed at my age,’ he exclaimed. ‘It was bad enough at home when I was younger with four of us in one room.’
I love hearing people’s back stories and glimpses into their lives.
Turns out he was fairly new to the town, staying at his uncle’s house in Ravensthorpe, while studying at Leeds University to be an optician.
‘I moved down from Newcastle last year, but I can’t believe the tension here. You can feel it.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
‘Well I went out with friends and we ended up in a nightclub last week as we could not find a decent shisha place. I asked a pretty girl to dance and had a laugh with her, nothing serious, and then was almost beaten up for no reason. The bouncers had to stop him.
‘Some bloke didn’t like the fact I was Asian and dancing with a white lassie. He didn’t know her or me but decided he didn’t like it.
‘At home in the north east no one bats an eyelid, but here, it’s a problem. There is tension.’
Immediately, I knew what he meant. There is a tension. It’s not necessarily the terror links in recent years. It is something which has slowly crept up.
I remember 20 plus years ago going out as a youngster for a curry, when it was a novelty to eat poppadum and hot, spicy Asian food. There were only a handful of restaurants around.
I recall one occasion when we saw young waiters being horribly abused as they suffered racist insults, mainly from drunken men. I recall chapattis being thrown across the restaurant like frisbees and awful names being shouted out. It was terribly upsetting and remains a traumatic memory for me.
The polite young waiters barely retaliated at first, but as the years went on something happened. They fought back and stood up for themselves.
In hindsight, crimes were being committed that night but laws have thankfully changed for the better since then, and it simply would not be tolerated today.
Now, 25 years later, people cannot be abused for their race or religious belief. Of course, it still goes on, sadly. But people are thankfully brought to justice wherever possible.
I reassured the taxi driver that there were good people in Dewsbury and he should always remember that. He would not accept a tip and said that our conversation was worth more than any tip he could ever receive.