I wasn’t going to talk about the UK riots. I try to keep politics out of my blog. But it’s so occupied my life this week there’s nothing else to blog about.
Monday night I was late home, as I went to the Million Monkeys writing session after work. The sense of growing unease was palpable, as the rioting around London became more widespread as the evening wore on, but fortunately my train and the area where I live was unaffected, and I arrived home unscathed about 9pm. I was glued to the TV till 1am that night, watching news footage of the city I know and love burning.
I don’t know how old I was when I learned the lesson that taking something that didn’t belong to you is stealing, and Stealing Is Wrong, but I’m pretty sure I had a firm understanding of it by the time I started school. I’d also been told that wilfully damaging property was wrong. As for setting fires – well, I guess some people find this fun, but I was always terrified of fire. I’m even terrified of the aftermath of fire. The sight of London burning, and the after images, of smoking gutted buildings that used to be shops I’ve visited, will be with me for a very long time.
The footage of the looting disheartened me. People were blatantly strolling into wrecked shops and helping themselves to whatever they wanted. Are people no longer learning these inherent lessons of childhood? Or do they just not care? Because there was a third lesson here that was being ignored. Just because everyone else is doing something doesn’t make it right, or mean that you have to join in.
At that point, I lost faith in humanity. If we’re all behaving this way, then we’ve learned nothing over thousands of years of evolution and we don’t deserve to survive as a species. Let’s destroy ourselves now and save the universe further inconvenience.
But then the news of the riot clean up crew began to circulate. Armies of people sporting brooms and plastic bags congregated at the riot sites, organising themselves via the same social networks that the rioters used. They called themselves the Riot Wombles. They picked up rubbish, they scrubbed, they swept, they repaired broken windows. Other volunteers brought them cups of tea, with police riot shields being used as makeshift tea trays. Shelters opened for the people who’d lost their homes in the fires. People donated food and clothes to those who’d lost everything.
Then I read Jen Campbell’s blog post here. Reading this inspired in me a shred of hope that perhaps humanity could be redeemed after all.
If you’re on Twitter, or Facebook, go look up ‘Operation Cup of Tea’. This is such a quintessentially British anti-riot campaign, encouraging people across the land to protest by staying home and drinking tea. Don’t go looting; stay home and have a cuppa instead.
Life seems to be getting back to normal now. The British seem to be very good at the art of carrying on, regardless. London was bombed in the Blitz of the second world war. It was hit by terrorism during the IRA campaign, and again by a different terrorist group in 2005. Each time it recovered. The same spirit is prevailing now.