Tuesday, 9 August 2011

London Burns

Val, a committed and likeable legal executive is virtually in tears by Monday. Her house, off Haringey High Road is ground zero for the riots that exploded over the weekend.

Violence unfolded suddenly and unexpectedly on Saturday . One minute she was observing a small crowd outside Tottenham Police station who had assembled to demand answers over the death of a young man at the hands of the police, in circumstances which are still murky. Val then noticed a low-flying helicopter, and wondering vaguely whether there was a search on for a lost child,
she left to pick up a prescription from the chemist. By the time she got there the shop was being looted, and she ran for home.

All night she heard screaming and yells, and she got up sleepless to see her neighbourhood transformed into a moonscape. Beautiful listed buildings recently restored with great love (Haringey has more of these than anywhere in London) had been torched. Shops were looted, an entire row of mixed shops and residential building had gone up in flames, a neighbour's car had been burnt out.

The 89 year old barber who cuts her partner's hair was staring forlornly at the shattered windows of his tiny shop-front, where he seems to have worked time out of mind.

The staff are shocked, clients keep piling in and the work won't do itself so we get on with it.

Round one o'clock word gets round that there's an organised meet in Hackney. Kim and I go out to do an early post run and half the businesses including the Post Office have their shutters down. Shoppers and staff are drifting about aimlessly.

We elect to stay open in a frenzy of emergency applications, notices, pleadings, letters and client interviews- just another day at the office. Suddenly the TV's got live coverage of police lines 200 yards from our doorstep.

As buses close Red Pepper rescues us five in a car and gets us south of the river, like desperadoes catching the last stage coach out of Utah. A young woman on my train closes her phone and looks worried. “They've closed down the buses in Peckham.”

And so all night stuck to the screens. Burning cars in Lewisham and Hackney, an inferno as another carpet shop went up in Croydon, most unforgivably, a building in Peckham, again a shop with flats above. The police cordon in Lower Clapton Road stands right next to Marina's, greasy spoon of the world, and our local diner.

Today has been surprisingly quiet. A few broken windows in Mare Sreet and Narrow Way, about half of blinds down, no broken glass or burned out anything in sight, and 100 volunteers turn up outside the Town Hall to help. By lunchtime 90% of everything is closed though, including the banks.

Commerce goes out of Hackney with a whoosh, and London holds its breath.

No jobs, slashed benefits and services, rising cost of living, scrapping the lifeline EMA allowance that helps poor kids stay on in college and off the streets, yanking the price of a university education out of people's reach and dreams, it's not difficult to find the potent ingredients that made up this fire-bomb; the only question all along has not been if, only when.

Only a fool or a criminal would take pleasure at the sight of our communities burning down their workplaces,job-centres, and ancient buildings. Only a blind man could not have seen this coming somewhere down the road.

1 comment: