Tuesday, 9 August 2011

London's Burning

So here I sit in Whitstable, sunshine and blue skies, whilst my old stomping grounds burn and get looted. I feel guilty. A pathetic sort of survivor's guilt or something.

Walworth Road looted - I used to go to college along there on the bus then it was my route from Camberwell to Crockatt & Powell in Waterloo.

Mayhem in Peckham. I used to walk down to Peckham on a Sunday with Finn when he was a baby. We'd go to the soft play or to the library at Peckham Pulse. Lordship Lane looted. My wife was at dinner last night while one her colleagues was on the phone to his girlfriend. They live on Lordship Lane and she was terrified watching a chemist opposite get broken into and looted.

Hackney in flames. Half my London friends live in Hackney. I was at a wedding in Stoke Newington just last weekend. We stayed with my brother-in-law in Walthamstow, another affected area. Put Walthamstow into Google and the first entries that come up are Walthamstow riots and Walthamstow looting.

The list goes on...

I feel angry. Not just with those chucking bricks and burning stuff but with the collective failure that has led to a generation of young people feeling completely alienated from our society. "Mindless vandals" don't just appear, they are created from dire social conditions. Ok so we may not have people starving to death like Somalia but there are massive divisions in our society that breed ill will and destruction.

Living in Camberwell we were often too close for comfort to crime. Stabbing next door, fatal shooting at the end of our road, constant sirens and helicopters overhead. But we lived there during the good times, when the economy was booming. I feel guilty saying it but it is true. I'm glad to be out of it, down by the sea. But my heart breaks when I see the city I love torn up by rage.

It's too easy to blame it on mindless thugs and call for them all to be locked up or cleansed from the street with water canon. We are all culpable and need to think long and hard about how to make our society work for everyone. I don't claim to have the answers - I'm just a writer, book-lover and dad. But in my heart I feel a rich elite have ridden roughshod over people's lives. Maybe it's time for them to give something back? We need a rethink of our social contract, to find a way to give people hope and faith in their futures. Otherwise this may only be the beginning...


  1. Lovely sentiment - but if we are not part of the 'rich elite' and we are not part of 'the people' being ridden over - then who are we?

    I, too, pushed my Mclaren down to Peckham soft play to take advantage of the lovely facilities built in that downtrodden neck of the woods. And I too abandoned ship when faced with raising children in inner-city London.

    Perhaps it is our job to do something? To try to identify and rectify what has led to this? But that prospect is a little too terrifying for me...

  2. Hi Kit27, thanks for the comment.

    Still mulling these issues over.