It’s difficult to know what to say, write or think about the riots in London and city centres elsewhere in England. I live in the same borough as Tottenham, where it all started, and know people who were right in the epicentre of the trouble on Saturday night. I was planning to go shopping for boring things in Wood Green this week but can’t because the shop in question was looted: a minor inconvenience, but one I’ve certainly never encountered before.
Last night rumours were flourishing that Crouch End itself was due to be invaded – although what exactly would attract looters was a question that puzzled many. The abundant varieties of houmous? The elaborate and exotic coffees in our local cafes? Still, the atmosphere yesterday evening was strange, to say the least. My street became extremely twitchy when a small group of youths suddenly appear on the corner, hanging around by a car, all on their mobiles, soon to be surrounded by police: eventually they were moved on. Everyone started bringing in their window boxes, muttering about potential missiles.
Mum and I were due to go out to the ballet (Anna Karenina at the Opera House, performed by the Mariinsky) and after a bit of nervous vacillation we decided to go regardless, and I’m glad we did. The ballet was well worth the trip at any rate, and we encountered no trouble at all: in fact it was a darn sight easier to travel around with fewer people about. The many bands of tourists we encountered seemed more or less oblivious to the troubles in the untouristy parts of the city, or certainly unconcerned. I think – though I’m not sure – I might have detected a hint of an increased solidarity between Londoners on the tube, a slightly increased level of tolerance towards each other, or slightly more fellow feeling. For example, a man stopped in the tunnel in Finsbury Park to get his Oyster card out and didn’t get run over or shoved aside by passing commuters, as he undoubtedly would have been normally; instead we waited patiently. People might have been taking this sign to heart:
On the way back we saw signs of a closed-up, embattled London: shutters down over shops and bars in Stroud Green, one boarded-up pub, and police everywhere. It reminded me faintly of post-curfew Ashgabat, the same atmosphere of watchfulness and quiet deserted streets. The big supermarket up there (I hate using its name) was open, but with shutters down and security lurking around the entrance, ready to close if trouble approached. Everyone on the bus was quiet, alert.
But we’ve got off incredibly lightly around here. The destruction in other parts of London is horrifying: businesses destroyed, homes lost to fire, a man shot dead by rioters, others beaten up and robbed. It is hard to understand that Londoners have done this to other Londoners. But youth workers I have spoken to aren’t surprised that these riots have happened.
Hopefully the worst is over, in my part of London at least. Next comes the clearing up, and the attempts to understand where this eruption of violence, thievery and destruction came from, and to address the issues that fueled it. None of these tasks seem like they will be easy.