London, I love you but you’re bringing me down

09Aug11

If you’ve followed the events of the last few days on the frenetic shape shifter that is Twitter, you will know of the highs, lows and sheer conjection of the #riots hashtag. The mood soars as you hear of 1000s gathering for clean up operations, shops and pubs staying open defiantly and people making tea for exhausted policemen. Alternately, we watch in horror as the truth about the weakness of the line between civilisation and its naughty little brother, breakdown, makes itself known.

Boys hurl rocks at the shops where their mother buys milk in the morning. Stores that survived two world wars burn merrily in the night. Business owners sit and weep on the pavement the morning after, next to the ashes, next to everything that is broken.

The TV is hours behind. As usual, it plays reality on a loop so that it becomes unreality, reality buffered inaccurately by repetition, reality SkyTM with its whirring helicopter of information.

We recognise the boys, don’t we (and they are mostly boys); we’ve seen them coming out of the shop; we cycled quickly past them on the fields; we heard them get on the bus, jeering and taking up all the mental space on the top floor. We were doing up the kitchen, eating a Sunday roast and ordering Ocado shops online when they were making a racket outside. I double locked my door. You did too.

Everyone’s got a lot to say, though few are signing up to volunteer for kids’ charities. Others are much more qualified to analyse causal factors than me, and the people living in places like the Pembury estate are the most important voices of them all. Irrelevant Tory politicians with their piss-poor, Victorian-issue ‘analysis’ of feral criminality have nothing to offer the debate.

But today, as I walked around the place I live in Hackney, I thought about not only the sadness that such destruction creates in us, but the creeping dread. You know in your heart that you can’t divide the world into those as ‘good’ as the clean up community, emboldened by an apparent, essential ‘true spirit of London’, or those as ‘bad’ as the looters, who don’t get to be part of this ‘London’ – and ain’t that just the trouble. “Savagery is a possibility within us all. Some of us have been lucky enough not to have to call upon it for survival; others, exhausted from failure, can justify resorting to it”.

We dread the looters and the reality they remind us of, because people can do dreadful things when certain things happen to them. It makes it obvious how little we can control frightening events. It goes without saying that they are responsible for what they did, and that what they did is inexcusable. But their actions remind us of what’s on the other side of the locked door, the thing no one has worked hard enough to fix, the thing we have run from but has caught up with us – in the dark, at night, on the streets.

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4 Responses to “London, I love you but you’re bringing me down”

  1. 1 Rob

    Such wisdom and restraint in the face of uncertainty and fear

  2. 2 Maree Kimberley

    a thoughtful, insightful and well written post.

  3. 3 Marie Lupton

    I like this post but I don’t agree with the idea that savagery is something we are lucky enough not to call upon – we all have our crosses to bear – but we don’t resort to mindless violence against the very people who are in the same situation as us!! This is totally unjustifiable, whatever the circumstances of their lives – and I am not coming from a privileged background, having been homeless, unemployed and disenfranchised, but there is always an alternative to this!

  4. Thanks all for your comments.

    Marie, I took this quote to mean that certain people can justify resorting to violence to themselves – I agree with you that this kind of behaviour is never justifiable or excusable. Still, I think it’s important to understand the reasons why things can happen, otherwise we’re just sticking our heads in the sand.

    Another piece I’d recommend is this – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/8630533/Riots-the-underclass-lashes-out.html


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