Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Very naughty indeed

When I was very small, I used to lie awake in the light summer evenings and dread the arrival overhead of the 8pm flight from Paris into Renfrew airport. As it roared above our top flat, I imagined the horror of a bomb falling from it onto my little bedroom (originally the maid's room in the early days of the building) and visualise the heavy sandstone block between the windows tilting and toppling into the back green. The war was a recent memory and stories of the bombing were still sufficiently commonplace for small children with big ears to pick up enough detail to terrify.

Now, living in the peace of Argyll, I visualise bits of London I know - like Croydon - ravaged by fire and anger. I think of the daytime activity of clearing up, in defiance of the possibility that night will bring more destruction. Last night I read the tweeted commentary of people in London and elsewhere, and realised from the responses of some of my contacts that there was a great tide of immoderate comment that was passing me by. Suggestions about dealing with the riots ranged from the sensible to the homicidal; reactions to these from the shocked to the angry.

And what business have I to comment? Here we have cool, fresh evenings in beautiful surroundings, and I live a comfortable, cushioned life in which the noise from the pubs coming out irritates rather than threatens. As someone who has taken part in demos and sung at police lines and learned how to remain safe during NVDA* I know how it is possible to demonise the forces of the law - but there's where the comparison ends. Last night I watched a report on YouTube by an incredibly brave guy in Clapham who was asking looters if they were proud of what they were doing as they looted the shops of electrical appliances (they left the bookshop alone, natch). "What's that about?" he asked. And on Twitter people demanded draconian clamp-downs that others said would make things worse; some offered to pray for London and others felt patronised by the offer;  some seemed intent on appearing cool whatever happened.

Do I have a take on it? I don't know. I suspect that if I were living in the middle of it all I would be forgetting all my liberal instincts as fear took over - fear for my safety, for my property, for my livelihood. As it is, I worry about family and friends and am glad to hear they're ok. I look at angry youths being bestial and defensive women nicking tellies and I'm not surprised to see police wielding batons with a will. Fear and rage are powerful emotions and once things get going reason goes out of the window. So no, I don't know what I think, other than that it's hellish and I'm sorry for anyone who has to live with it. I'll stick right now with the wisdom of a two year old boy who saw the TV news this morning: "People are being very naughty."

Quite the most balanced response I've heard so far.

*NVDA: non-violent direct action


  1. First establish why.

    The UK is not without its history of late-summer-time protests, be it in London (mobs?) or even in enlightened Edinburgh (anarchists?), back in the late 90s (ish).

    There's quite a lot of value in an external perspective, of course.

    And I'm more horrified at the immoderate responses - saw a fair few on facebook last night.

    And if you want a real perspective, take the cost of a few tellies and digicams and buildings and compare that to the state of the economy and then tell me who's looking out for their next generation and who the real criminals are.

  2. So that's that, then? Problem solved. "...the cost of a few tellies and digicams and buildings ..." amounts to nothing more than a hill of beans compared to the "real criminals" and the opinion that no one's looking out for "their [whose?] next generation".

    "First establish why." Well, go ahead - establish. Give me a reason why anyone should torch other people's livelihoods, mug already injured victims, hurl bricks at police officers, attack firefighters and generally bring hooligan violence and destruction to major cities.

    I don't want to hear the Officer Krupke explanation ("I'm depraved on account I'm deprived") because it's patent nonsense. Thousands of people exist (God help us!) in deprivation without rioting and looting and committing arson.
    I think that this is simpler than just a "late-summer-time" protest - as if it was something that we should accept as part of life's rich seasonal tapestry. It is opportunistic criminality, tout court.

    I don't need to look on facebook for anything, let alone "immoderate responses". I can generate enough of my own, and they will not be dependent on what others think is the correct way to react. In the words of the prophet, stuff that for a game of sojers. Immoderate actions call for considered but tough reactions, perhaps involving the deployment of water cannons, which liberal opinion denies our police forces for fear of actually stopping the poor rioters before they run out of steam naturally and get a chance to nick a few more BlackBerrys all the better to tweet with.

    The point is not that the economy is bad (and it is) therefore we should not condemn criminality too much. We should be capable of doing both, and of thinking of more than one thing at a time.

    Oh dear. I've ranted. Enough for now (punctuation deliberate!).

  3. It's horrible, it's live and it's scary. Even from this far away.

    It's happening in other places in the world but the population there doesn't have as easy access to social media as we do so we don't notice. I thought that little birds didn't soil their own nests. I was obviously wrong.

    I wouldn't fancy trying to be their teacher when they go back to school.