This is England?

When I sat around, idly planning my next blog post revolving around the ideas of positivity and happiness, I had no idea that something else entirely would grab my attention today. I’d been aware of a background buzz centring around the riots that have recently hit London for the past couple of days, but being almost religious in my spurning of news (delicate temperament, I tend to get too upset/worried to stay well informed) I hadn’t realised quite how bad things had got.

So it was with utter horror that I sat up last night, Monday 8th August 2011, unable to sleep and turning from Sky News to BBC news to Twitter to Facebook and back again. This wasn’t some far away happening that I could shake my head at, but ultimately return to my every day business. Everywhere I looked, I saw either video footage of somewhere I knew, or friends who were cowering in their flats, watching as streets blazed and swarmed around them.

This was, is, our London. Our beautiful, buzzing capital. Our history, our core, where epic events happen alongside the more banal, but where everybody has a place. I think what has been most disturbing is that this is us. This isn’t some attack by outside forces, something we can rail against. This is a country turning on itself, and that is what’s most terrifying – certainly from my perspective. Why are we proving ourselves utterly unworthy, as a country? We’re still at a low ebb in terms of the economy and employment. This is something else entirely. Turning in on ourselves, kids, actual KIDS out there. And women! People on the streets last night were describing around a 40/60 male/female split. I say ‘we’ as if we are all complicit, when of course it’s a small percentage of people who are affecting this, a ‘they’, not an ‘us’.

What’s possibly even scarier is that we have no idea what this is about. What are any of these people arguing against? I find it alarming beyond belief that this has just sprung up, growing exponentially, with no just cause (as if there could be a ‘just’ cause for any of this.) The rioting grew to looting, to burning. I watched and listened as Croydon was hit, and while Reeves’ furniture store still burned, Clapham began to swarm too, then the next fire, the next lot of looting, and then along to Ealing.

I don’t trust my own opinions enough to comment on what should be done to these people, or to try and unpick why they are doing this. I don’t even really think the ‘why’ is in question, I think what we should question is ‘how’. How was last night the third night? How has this been allowed to happen? And then ‘what’ – what will happen tonight? There has been nothing so far to discourage any of these people. What reason at all is there for them to stop? I hardly think Cameron’s few placatory words to the nation will deter any of them, despite the fact that some looters are probably watching him in high definition on their new 60” televisions.

We have woken up today a damaged nation. We were fragile before, but now we’re almost broken. And yes, while the rioters are only a small percentage of our country, what’s happening to the remaining percentage, the observers? Some are already making jokes. Some are already moving on. Some are getting angry, getting militant, railing against the government and the police.

Some, however, are being positive. More than some – with #riotcleanup trending on Twitter, and helpers filling the streets to start untangling some of this mess, there is hope. A little bit of what the Daily Mail will probably call ‘Blitz spirit’ is rising up. We are Britain. We should not have to stand for this. While we can’t fight back, we must do what we can to patch things up.

While we’ve seen the bad side of social networking, as Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry messenger were all used for the worst possible reasons, today they are being used to spread the word about cleaning up, to take stock, and to ensure our loved ones are safe and sound. We’ve been through wars, IRA bombings, the 7/7 bombings…we cannot crumble in the ugly face of some of our own. If you can, please check out http://www.riotcleanup.co.uk. Please go and join the force for good. Please stay safe. Please don’t lose faith in our country.

I’ll give the final word to The Clash:

This is England
What we’re supposed to die for
This is England
And we’re never gonna cry no more

Those British boots go kick him,
Kick him in the head
Police sit watchin’
The newspapers been read
Who cares to protest
After the attacker fled
Out came the batons and
The British warned themselves

This is England
The land of illegal dances
This is England
Land of a thousand stances
This is England
This knife of Sheffield steel
This is England
This is how we feel
This is England
This is England

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