Speaker by Various Artists

27

Listening to Coldharbour Lane

by Stella Duffy

I don’t know.
 I hate that I can hear sirens on Coldharbour Lane at the end of my road – but then again, I can hear sirens on Coldharbour Lane any night of any week. I just have a more clear idea of what these ones might be doing tonight.

I hate that ‘my’ Brixton, which has been doing so well, and making such great strides with fantastic local businesses stepping up (especially in Brixton Village) is going to suffer harsh setbacks after all this has died down. There’s no money though, so the money to refit and refurb won’t be coming anytime soon that I can see, not with the global markets crashing around our ears.

I hate that the news is reporting “London on fire” – it’s not. Not all of it. Not even most of it. Small pockets. And yes, those pockets are ghastly, terrifying, nonsensical (Croydon? Really – Croydon?! why??), but it’s still not the whole city and it isn’t anarchy and no, we do NOT need troops on the streets, or water cannon, or any of those other extreme far-right tactics that have worked so well in Libya and Syria this year.

I hate that Twitter and Facebook seem to have a ghoulish excitement for the worst of the news and I suspect that rolling news only makes the stupids looting out there think that what they’re doing is newsworthy.
As I write this there have been no mentions of any fatalities from the rioting, but I’m scared that can’t last.

I hate that the rioters are mostly spoken of as young black youths, when the pictures clearly show other races and young women as well. I hate that we have so demonised young black men that they are the first image people seem to conjure when they hear of riots.

I hate that our Met Police were so effective at kettling and rounding up school children and university students demonstrating against education cuts some months ago and yet seem absurdly powerless to do anything about a bunch of kids with large sticks attacking Bodyshop in the high street.

I hate that they’re attacking their own back yards. Young people smashing in and stealing from and closing the shops where they themselves work, eat, shop.

I hate the consumerism of the rioters. I wish they were chanting slogans, I wish they were carrying placards, I wish there was a clear political point to what they’re doing. I wish they didn’t seem to be so clearly shopping.
I do think that any riot is political, even without a clear political point, but I wish the people taking part in this one were channelling that energy into something constructive.

I hate that Woolwich has had fires set. Woolwich, which is already such a poor relation to its neighbouring Greenwich, which is trying – and then it gets slapped down again. Anyone would think there was a vested interest in keeping the poor and disaffected in their place. (Hush now, conspiracy theorists.)

This certainly isn’t the first time London has had to deal with looters, and even that “Blitz spirit” wasn’t always all it was cracked up to be – my Mum had stories of her bombed-out home in Kennington being looted during WW2.
I think it’s laughable – and utterly typical – that our PM and London Mayor have both only just agreed to come back from holiday to deal with this mess, that they had to be shamed into coming home because neither of them could be bothered doing so sooner.

And I do find it scary, but I find the fear engendered by rolling news and over-eager reporting and ghoulish fascination even more frightening. That fear is easily turned against us.
I hate that really normal parts of London are being set on fire while all the big fancy places stay aloof and safe – and no, OF COURSE I don’t want them attacked too – but I do hate that it’s always the poor that suffer, always the poor that end up attacking the poor (either in the armies of the rich or, as now, at home).

Because, more than anything, this feels like it’s about class. It may have been sparked by the shooting of a black man, but it’s shops that are being targeted, ownership, property. And that feels like a class target, not a race target.
And finally, I hate, really really hate, that the EDL and the BNP and any other extreme right body (and sometimes not that extreme) will use this as a reason to decry immigration, non-white British, to attack anyone they see as not-English.

And here’s what I love: I love the woman who tweeted that a group of 9 youths escorted her home from Camberwell to East Dulwich because she’s a woman. I love that they did.
I love the number of people on twitter who are offering to get out tomorrow morning and clean up Brixton and Croydon and Hackney and Liverpool and Birmingham and anywhere that needs it.
I love that London has seen this all before and will no doubt see it again.

I love that woman that everyone’s been posting, telling off the kids for stealing and looting.

I love that this surely must signal the end of Dave as PM.

I love that the firefighters must now be safe from further proposed government cuts. (Oh shut up, conspiracy theorists).

I love that people still went to glorious Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park tonight (and said the roses smelled great too) and the South Bank was gorgeous yesterday afternoon, and Brockwell Lido was cool and welcoming this morning, and people went to work and did work and came home and maybe they were scared and maybe they didn’t find it easy but they did it.

I feel guilty that Christchurch and Japan had earthquakes and didn’t turn to looting (at least as far as I know) and people here have seemingly done so as their reason to be out on the street.

I feel very sorry that other uprisings in Syria and Egypt and Libya are being ignored by our press as they focus on this.

I know this will pass. And we’ll get on, but getting on in a recession is harder than getting on in boom time and places like Woolwich and Brixton, which have worked really hard to pick themselves up, to attract new investment, are going to have an even harder time. All over again.

I don’t think it’s playing Pollyanna to keep reminding myself and others that it’s NOT the whole of London, or Birmingham, or Liverpool; that it’s NOT every young person; that we’re not – quite – going to hell in a handcart. (And anyway, I’d always rather play Pollyanna than Cassandra, the latter is so damn smug when things go wrong.)

I’m especially keen that those making rolling news and sending out twitter hoaxes get a good night’s sleep. I do think the passion of the news reporting and the tweeting and all the rest of it does something to stoke the fires. I’d like the kids to get a good night’s sleep. Because the really sad thing is, even with suggestions (some seemingly very likely) that many of those disturbances are gang-related and well organised, some of them aren’t, and some of them involve 14 year olds out on the street.

I’ve just done a Skype interview for TV3 in NZ, for Campbell Live. I was trying to make sense of it for people who are so very far away. I’m not sure I can make sense of it from here.

I’m going to bed. Like most of us I’ve been watching the news all night, most of today. I don’t think it helps. See you in the morning. Tomorrow is another day. (er, today.)

London-based novelist Stella Duffy grew up in Tokoroa. This post originally appeared on her blog.

27 responses to this post

First ←Older Page 1 2 Newer→ Last