Yesterday my children and I were in a council-run adventure playground not far from Finsbury Park, in North-East London. The children there reflect the diversity of our neighbourhood - black, dual heritage, like my own children, Asian, white, all mucking around with the odd spat about territory in the sun. Suddenly one of the play-centre workers rang a bell and got the children all inside. The council (Islington) had just rung the centre, saying that rioters were on their way, down the Hornsey Road and into the streets where we live, around Finsbury Park.
I got the children home on their bikes, but not before concealing phone, keys and cash around our person, rather than in our bags and bike baskets. The younger one, at eight, was terrified; the older one, at eleven, resigned to the fact that her bike might be stolen. We got home safely, and in the event either those rioters got dispersed, or it was a just one of the many rumours swirling around London and other urban areas, in the febrile atmosphere of this very strange summer. We locked the doors and hoped for a quiet night. Our friends in Manchester texted us to say they were leaving town for the night after their neighbours had been burgled in broad daylight. My niece in Leicester facebooked us to say "stay safe" - ironic - given that Leicester was hit last night, rather than London.
I texted back to say we'd packed our brown suitcases and gas-masks and were ready to evacuate to family in the countryside if needs be (if there was a time for Blighty humour, it must be now).
Humour, but anger too, that the police have been so ineffective; that young people just a few years older than my children are rampaging through the streets, destroying their own backyards, destroying businesses built up, often by hard-working immigrants who have now lost everything, that parents don't seem to care enough about their children to keep them home - and that politicians are happy to mouth platitudes about respect now but were keen enough, just a month or so ago, to close down the youth clubs and other services that gave these kids some boundaries and some sense of respect at least.
Because, in the end, those politicians don't live in areas like this, where we are proud of our diverse neighbourhoods - where all the neighbours, many old East End white folk came out just a fortnight ago to bid farewell to our old Chinese neighbour, who died suddenly. Where everyone mucks in and clears up each others' garden for the Britain in Bloom competition, helps out with our street party, and plants flowers around the street trees to make this place a slightly better place to live. They don't live here - they don't live in Hackney - they don't live in Salford - they don't live in Wolverhampton. And, in the end, they just don't care enough, because they are not our neighbours, to make a difference to our lives. They will carry on closing down our youth services, the clubs and services for disabled people, the wheels on meals. It's left to the rest of us to pick up the pieces.
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