If I had a teddy bear I would call it Barbara Moses Vishnu Weinstein so everyone would be happy.
Who says Muslims don’t have a sense of humour? Recently, I compèred a comedy show for the Newcastle Pakistan Cultural Society, and it took place . . . in a brewery. In Gateshead. I was greeted by Mr Sanam, a Pakistani version of Jeremy Paxman, who in a Geordie Pakistani accent with inflections of Birmingham greeted me: “Asalaam aleikum pet how ya doin like?” He then interrogated me as to why I’m still not married. He had a friend whose friend had a sister who had a cousin who was available and all arrangements could be made within a week.
Mr Sanam seemed very nice, but a little confused about the modern day. “What does he look like?” I asked about the potential suitor. “Oh, he’s very good-looking. If you would like to see a picture of him, there’s one on eBay.”
The decorative attire of the venue caused me further amusement: the stage was lit up with two large Christmas trees, each with a fairy at the top – one black and one white. Integration and assimilation were well under way in Gateshead, but I didn’t realise the extent of it until dessert arrived. It was halal Christmas cake with 40 lashings of custard. Yum yum. And the only bears in sight were in the crackers.
By the exit doors sat a Geordie Pakistani Father Christmas with a big black rucksack full of presents, wearing a black beard, moustache and monocle. He had a name badge with “Geoffrey” written on it and three stars. He had obviously passed all his integration exams and was now a fully fledged British Father Xmas.
My father’s name is Mohammed – which he abbreviates to Bob. My mother’s name is Sarwat, which she abbreviates to Sharon. John and Helen next door are getting very confused, so we’ve abbreviated their names to Iqbal and Perveen.
My parents have never received hate mail or death threats accusing them of “coming to this country, stealing our names, disrespecting our culture”. When I was nine I had a teddy bear. It was terribly middle-class, soon became part of our family, and was christened Humphrey Mirza. Not once did
I receive a complaint from Lauren Bacall or the Bogart kids saying that I had disrespected them.
If I had a teddy now, I would not want to offend anyone. I would name it Barbara Moses Vishnu Weinstein so everyone was happy. In all this furore, I wonder why it is acceptable to name your kid Muhammad, yet not your kid’s teddy bear? I wonder if the fat kids of Britain were offended by the name Pudsey Bear? I didn’t see Terry Wogan getting 40 lashes and being sent back to Ireland.
On Friday night, Selwyn College, Cambridge had its winter bash, the Snowball. I assume this was to do with its being Christmas and not due to the amount of cocaine that could potentially be snorted. They asked me to perform two sets, one at 10pm and one at midnight, after a hypnotist had been on before me, and while the bar was in full flow. So the students were getting as drunk as possible and trying to get off with the boys and girls they’d fancied all term but not achieved anything with when sober.
When I went on, the students had been hypnotised for fun. They were ordered to pinch the bottom of the hypnotist trying to cross the room to get to the stage. It was hilarious to watch, but also uncomfortable. In the middle of my midnight set, drunk, rowdy, slightly under hypnosis, and thinking that they were cleverer than me, the students, instead of heckling, started to debate me.
Only at Cambridge would a student shout: “Ms Mirza, what of the situation in Sudan? Isn’t it terrible?” “What of it?” I replied.
You obviously haven’t been hypnotised enough. Can’t you drink some more, or talk to me in a Pakistani Geordie accent? This atmosphere is far too civilised.