Last night, some people tweeted me whether I was ok - apparently there was rioting going on in London. I told them that I was fine and way, way removed from the violence in what I thought was only London Proper (I'm living in a commuter city just outside) and that, besides, my city is so sleepy and frankly rich - I call it "pork belly town" in my less charitable moments - there would be no rioting.
Chuckling a little to myself about the over-cautious, but very sweet attitude from my friends, I stood at the train station, grabbing my coffee and breakfast, when a visibly tired guy with tattoos on his arms - think type firefighter/battle-hardened copper - ordered TWO large coffees for himself, saying "what a night".
Curious as I am, I asked him what had gone on, and he said "The riots. They trashed the High Street." (To my US friends, "the High Street" is the quivalent of the "Main Street" - basically the main shopping street).
So, yeah, the riots happened in my city, too. I'm about ten minutes' drive away from the area, in a sleepy, very suburban area with terraced houses, which all look exactly the same. There's protection in uniformity, I guess.
So, looking at the news reports, I'm not surprised. Croydon and Lewisham - where the violence started and then washed into "my city" are deprived areas. I feel unbelievably queasy in both cities, and that lingering feeling of discontent and... coarseness, for want of a better word, has kept me away from the area ever since. The joke is that the only reason to go to Croydon - origin of trashy fake blondes and a weird, coke-snorting supermodel - is the IKEA store.
Lewisham has an excellent Indian restaurant, but the restaurant is in an area so ugly and down-and-out that basically, you want to go there in a largish group, ideally all male, and get the hell out of the area when it gets dark.
Now, I've lived in a socially deprived area. For 27 years of my life, I've lived in social, government-subsidised housing, but not once have I felt threatened there. I don't feel threatened even now - I have a very good sense of location and can usually tell well in advance if there's a threat anywhere. I'm good at judging moods. Both Lewisham and Croydon give me the creeps in a "I don't want to be here" kind of way.
My sensibilities are very much middle-class - but I'm a "kid made good" story. I come from those areas. I got educated, I worked hard, I left my "social class" and became very much middle-of-the-road middle class, with a little house and a little garden and a little pension, and a little business, and little aspirations to just get "more" of all the good stuff I have and generally be a nice, upstanding member of society. On the other hand, I do understand that same anger. If my life hadn't worked out, I could be there, throwing stones and torching police cars.
Britain has some huge social issues going on - the mobs of violent youths roaming the streets at night can only be understood if you've read Clockwork Orange. Youth violence is something Britain has just got used to, and it's frankly scary. I *like* staying a home, writing, but if I didn't, I'd stay home because the streets aren't safe, they don't feel safe, and I just dislike drunken people throwing bottles and shouting obscenities, only interrupted by them vomiting their cheap beer everywhere.
There are things I miss about Germany.