London calling (a week in Notting Hill)

I’m guessing plenty of Generation X had the same Smiths’ song stuck in their head over the course of this week. Panic on the streets of London (never mind Birmingham and Manchester), it was.

And now? Well, I can only report from the Westbourne Park/Notting Hill area and am unable to speak for the rest of the city — where plenty of places were notably untouched and a handful may never be the same.

Here, we’ve been left with an edgy hangover and serious worries about the upcoming Notting Hill carnival. The troubles of Saturday and Sunday night were localized enough that you might forgive me when I tell you that the first time I got wind that riots had kicked off , shops had been looted and buildings had burnt was on my way to work Monday morning.  And by that time it was all about to go viral as they say. The worst  of the London riots came that night and that’s when they entered my nearby streets. I was stuck re-routing myself home thanks to station closures where violence was underway above, and as a result I managed to make it back to my street after the attack on The Ledbury and The Walmer .

That night we shuttered all the windows, watched live Sky reports in between following a constant flow of fresh tweets — wondering how many of them were alarmist versus frighteningly accurate. We finally fell asleep. Given a few minor (though recent) incidents where our house has been the target for break-in’s, the thought did cross our minds that maybe it is dumb not to have a baseball bat.

By Tuesday, with the arrival of police reinforcements and mass arrests, the tornado of lawlessness that made a brief appearance in Notting Hill had joined the rest of the havoc in London and swept itself off to northern cities.

Since then the streets around where I live have been spooky. Yes, there are people going about their business and some of the restaurants and pubs are still as busy as they would normally be, but only some. Severals shops have temporarily closed for business — especially the tauntingly expensive boutiques. Normality abounds but in limited pockets only.  For one of the most touristic parts of the city, the area has been remarkably free of pedestrians (day and night.) And where are the masses of non-tourist-looking people I normally see and have to wonder why they aren’t at work? Where has the traffic gone? It’s weird. I’d assumed that after the calm that descended on Tuesday night , that the local bustle would bounce back into position. But it hasn’t.

As the week has progressed, there are two groups of people more visible than normal.

The well-dressed bobbies on the beat walking about in their pairs (have I not seen them before or are they taking more visbile paths since Monday?) and old age pensioners standing at street corners swapping stories with each other about what they saw from their windows. On a couple of corners I’ve spotted the two groups coming together, the police strolling up to the pensioners for a bit of comforting chit chat.

The rest of us seem to be observing some sort of self-imposed curfew (at night). Or we don’t much feel like hanging around our own neighbourhood (in the day.)

I won’t add to the blaming that’s been going on. The debates have been heated all week.

  • The kids – protesters? rioters? looters? criminals? an entire under-class most of us have ignored?
  • Their parents – what the heck?
  • The police – heroes? useless? caught between a rock and a hard-place?
  • The politicians – totally out of touch? blaming everyone but themselves?
  • The courts – too heavy-handed? ridiculously soft-touch?
  • And what about the rest of us? Do we carry any blame?

The week hasn’t made me angry. Other things make me angry. The messier a situation strikes me the less likely I can be bothered to blame anyway. What’s the point? Mostly I’ve just been sad and on Monday evening I did get scared.

For those of my readers who don’t follow twitter, I’ll wrap with a selection of riot tweets fresh in over the course of this afternoon last:

BBCBreaking 1,600 arrested so far and 796 appeared before courts in connection to #riots; 17% are under 18 – Ministry of Justice

helenlewis For anyone filling out their “what caused the riots bingo card”, Peter Hitchens just blamed “practical atheism” on #skynews

BBCNews Community Secretary, Eric Pickles, says plans to evict convicted rioters from social housing are ‘the right thing to do’ #riots #londonriots

BBCBreaking Council tenant, whose son appeared in court charged in relation to #Londonriots, to be first served with eviction notice

guardian Top story on Friday – Tories on #riot policing: too few, too slow, too timid #ukriots #londonriots #birminghamriots

tim Blimey, @GMPolice (official Manc police) is tweeting names, addresses, DOB and convictions from recent court judgements after #riots

Telegraph #londonriots: pensioner who confronted rioting yobs dies after life support machine is switched off

thomsonholidays Thomson will rebook holidays for police, who’ve had their leave cancelled due to #riots, for free. For info go to

Anon_Support Dear UK citizens █████ █ ████ everything ███ █████ is█████ ██ ████ fine ██ ███ ██████ trust ███ ███ your █████ ████ government. #londonriots

johnb78 New blog post: Riot strategy, or ‘why calls for tougher cops are missing the point’ #bloggery #londonriots

DavidKaufer Everyone Is Saying Britain’s Immigrant Communities Are The Real Heroes Of The Riots #londonriots

mattstevensloop Please don’t tweet “Things seem to be” etc about #londonriots #tottenham etc without facts – it just scares people – ta

monstris An open letter to David Cameron’s parents. Do you know what your son is doing? #ukriots #londonriots

caitlinmoran If any plan is made to prevent things like this happening again that doesn’t feature Camilla Batmanghelidjh, it will be a stupid plan.

And while Camilla is NOT the only voice of reason, in my book she’s certainly a very important one with something to say about how to help the kids around us (and not so around us if you live in the right place) find a better life. Click here for her views expressed earlier this week.


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