Wednesday, 10 August 2011

London Erupts

The last four days have been shocking with the news of violence and looting in London and other cities throughout the UK.  Having ignored my computer all weekend, I only became known of the situation on Sunday night.
As things escalated and we woke up to stories of utter devastation on Tuesday morning the mood around me was one of shock and disbelief.  How could events of this magnitude erupt in our wonderful city?  What makes people act so badly; destroying the homes, possessions and livelihoods of so many people,  mugging a young man as he staggers around shocked and bleeding from a head injury, destroying their own neighbourhoods?
My son Jack rang to say he and his fiancée were safe although they live five minutes from the centre of Ealing where their Tesco supermarket, favourite little coffee shop, Thai restaurant and florist shop were vandalised and a neighbour escaped her burnt out flat with only her beloved violin and the clothes on her back. My daughter was quite sage tucked away in the countryside of West Sussex but concerned for all of us in the thick of it.
My sister in Australia emailed to check whether we were all safe.  Now a freelance, writer and lecturer, in the 1970’s she left her job and to start her first business – a tiny shop selling second hand clothes.  She worked incredibly hard for thirty years to build a successful retail business. One reason she gave for closing it down was feeling fed up with the increasing levels of shoplifting by people who saw her as a rich capitalist and felt entitled to take what they wanted.  She expressed her dismay and sadness for those small business owners who have lost so much.  My friend in Tasmania invited me to come for a peaceful break from my London Lewisham to her Lewisham, a sleepy little Tasmanian coastal township.  I thanked her for such an idyllically sounding offer, but politely declined!
After business as usual, taking calls all morning, at lunchtime I went for a walk through Greenwich.  Rumours were rife of crowds gathering in Blackheath, Woolwich, Charlton and Deptford.  The university closed all gates but the main two, while the Maritime Museum, Chapel and Painted Hall closed early.  All the shops were either shut or being boarded up.  In the market, usually such a bustling place full of colourful stalls, wonderful foodie smalls and chattering people, the stall holders were hurriedly packing up, running to clear the site and get home before any evening disturbances.  I walked back from lunch feeling quite shaken by a strong sense of anxiety, wondering knowing what would happened next.  Over the afternoon we kept abreast of events between calls by checking the online updates.  I took a call from a woman who ostensibly was enquiring about her application status but went on to tell me of her terrifying ordeal the day before when she and her two small children were caught up in the unrest in Hackney.  The smoke had been so thick that she was only able to get home by following the canal.  She sounded shaken; still in shock.  After twenty minutes of letting her just talk, we said goodbye and I wished her well. I rang off, feeling very moved by her story and glad I was able to listen.
With all the uncertainty, many staff left early, pairing up to travel safely.  I left my bicycle at work and got a lift back with a colleague.  The streets were very quiet, almost ominously so, with most shops locked and shuttered.  We went to bed wondering what we would wake up to this morning.  We were relieved to things had been quiet in London but sadden to hear of events in the other cities.  There was a news item showing the demolition of the bunt out shell that up to two days ago had been a thriving 100 year old furniture business in Croydon.  I know this area very well having lived close by for many years.  The devastated owner remarked that the business had survived through two world wars and a depression.  I was heartened to see the organisation of the cleanup campaign organised through Twitter where crowds of people emerged onto the streets armed with brooms, dustpans and black bags, determined to show defiance to the rioters and support for those suffering.
As I walked to work today over Blackheath and down through Greenwich Park, the sun shone, the city glistened in the distance at the start of a glorious summer’s day.  It was as though nothing had happened.
Tottenham - 20 families homeless and business wiped out

Looters in Lewisham

Mac on riots

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