London is up in arms. Fires, mobs, looting, violence and wanton destruction.
It’s a Monday night. I’m heading home and there’s a sense of anticipation in the air.
No, not anticipation, fear.
I live on the main road in a part of London that’s slapbang between Brixton, Streatham, Tooting and Clapham Junction, an area right in the middle of troubled areas, but I’m housesitting round the corner on a quieter street.
When I get in the door I log on to Twitter and do a search for Balham and #londonriots. A conflicting account emerges, a fifty-fifty split between people saying there’s trouble on the high street, and people saying there really isn’t. Both groups have pictures to prove their point.
So I leave the house where I am, and go back to my flat, to collect the things that are irreplacable if they burn in a fire, like the one that happened to Greggs in Peckham.
Outside the local pubs, people are enjoying a drink and watching the sun set. But the shops are pulling their shutters down, even the corner shops that never seem to close, as if they know something we don’t.
Everything takes on a sinister look. The joggers running home turn into people running away from trouble. The kids in hooded sweaters become potential perpetrators of violence. People waiting for a bus become troublemakers plotting which shop to smash up next.
It’s quieter than a normal Monday night, and maybe that’s what makes it disconcerting. Maybe there is trouble brewing. Maybe there’s not.
The fear, the palpable fear, which stops ordinary people living their ordinary lives is the biggest source of oppression tonight.
It’s the fear that’s made me go to my flat and put jewellery that belonged to my grandmothers, and paintings done by my aunt, two Bibles I was given as gifts, and a blanket I bought in India, in a bag to bring back with me to where I’m staying.
As if tonight I have to decide what matters and what doesn’t. All motivated by fear.