Thursday, 11 August 2011

Home again, home again


This photo looted from the Hartlepool Mail online. Taken by Paul Duxfield.


So we are home... or at least back in our adopted home of Scotland (we've lived here since 2002 and we have a fair amount of Scottish links in our family too). And though it has rained almost continually since we returned we are still glad to be back, to see our friends, to be in our own house again, to walk our own dog. For now anyway.

And yet our other home, the country where we were both born and brought up, is in big trouble this week (if you haven't seen coverage of what's been happening in London and a few other English cities then you must have been having a no-news week or something). We don't really call England home much any more but it still is that, of course, in many ways. We still have family and many friends there, we still sound English, we still can't help but be interested in it. And London... big, crazy London... I lived there for a few years some quarter of a century ago (eek!) so I know a bit about London too.

Here are a few observations re the current English situation:

No-one ever really expected David Cameron to be any kind of good leader (even other Tories, I think) and indeed it seems he is keeping to his target. And I know the leader isn't everything... but it is meant to be something.

I suspect people who found Boris Johnson 'charming' and 'wacky' are feeling a bit different about that now.

The banks really ballsed up and people are still mad about that and they will be for a long time. We don't mind getting ripped off a bit (in fact we expect that) but we don't really want our faces rubbing in it over and over again. They did, as it were, write a blank cheque for daylight robbery.

Anyone who writes anything about all this explosion of violence and theft and uses the word 'surprise' has been avoiding some very obvious truths, it seems to me. Haven't they been in an English inner city area in the past, I dunno, fifty years? Haven't they been sworn at by a lawless (and loveless...) ten year old out there somewhere for heaven's sake? Haven't they seen all the gritty movies about alienation, poverty and feral youth and realised that our film makers are maybe taking those stories from real life..? But I guess some people don't ever see films like that... they can be really depressing (though not as depressing as getting your house burned down I'm guessing).

Also, for me, the London police cannot enjoy a good season of student-bashing and baiting and then expect too much sympathy when they get opponents with a bit more attitude and application (and that's without starting on the News International business). And yet I still feel sympathy, of course, for some of the police officers - for the ones who do do a good job and have to take the crap and the burning bottles anyway. It's never the worst arseholes who pay the price, unfortunately.

After a year when we have been bored to tears about the bloody royal family (and there was no escape from them overseas – there was possibly even more coverage of the stupid wedding in Canada and the US than here I think) the special ones have been conspicuously quiet during the recent riot season. Feel a bit embarrassed about all that wealth and all those lovely parties this week? Ever think you're part of the problem, princess? What nothing from you? Nothing?
(Added later, 19.8.11, there have since been a couple of royal visits to riot sites - Princes Charles and Harry, that I'm aware of so far. For balance I thought I should add this. Not that it makes me any less keen on the the end of our monarchy. Not at all).

And the great unsaid... London is just too big – too many people, too many poor areas contrasting so starkly with some of the most obscene wealth (all cities have that but London is kind of a leader in the field). When I lived there (so long ago) it was just after the '80s riots and the scars were deep and throbbing. This time there are so many young people with so much to prove that I don't see this clearing up any time soon. Some of them are genuinely angry and some are already fairly hardened criminals and more than happy for a chance to take a bonus or two. Some are too damaged to care, others are bored stupid and another bunch are, no doubt, just going along for the ride – but whatever their reasons or drives most of the hooded young out there will be having the time of their lives in some way or other this week (it may seem horrible to think that but if we ignore the pleasure element I think we will not understand what is happening). I've read a few times this week that it feels like war in parts of England just now (class war... sort of)... and it is a kind of war for sure. It seems that we cannot stop ourselves from making and getting into these war situations (both at home and away) because a lot of people knew this was coming and yet England, as a country, did nothing to stop it – in fact they brought, as the saying goes, it on (more for the rich, less for the poor, ra, ra, ra!). So, now it's here and right in our faces. And it's not pretty. Welcome home.




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26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well said, Rachel! There's nothing like six months away to give one some perspective.

Duncan

Rachel Fox said...

Sad though, isn't it? And some of the 'scum, scum, scum' reactions make me even sadder...
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Eryl said...

You can have no idea how happy it makes me to read this, Rachel, I was beginning to think I was the only person who didn't feel the rioters should be rounded up and tortured to death. It seems to me that we are all both victims of and responsible for the suffocating growth of consumerism. Advertising, and the mainstream media with it's ghastly style pages, tell us every minute of every day that we are what we own. These kids are told they will never own anything, because no matter how hard they work at school there are no jobs, and jobs is where it's at. They have no hope, and they see the establishment, as you point out, just helping themselves to whatever they want, whenever they want.

Okay, that was a bit of a heartfelt rant, do apologise, as you can probably see I haven't thoroughly thought this through yet. But I do know we can't continue to blame the hurt for their pain and leave it at that.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, some of the more aggressive reactions to recent events have been very telling (the rioters aren't the only ones with aggression so close to the surface... ours is a very aggressive world, on the quiet). I've witnessed 'good Christians' go from 'love each other' to 'shoot the scum' facebook posts in the blink of an eye (for an eye...). And it's understandable too, of course - watching innocent people suffering at the hands of an angry mob is horrible and you want to react somehow. I just don't think the tabloid mentality route is the way to go right now (even if some of the people on the streets do their best to turn us that way - stealing from the weak, bashing everything, trying to shock us with the basest of their actions...). We have allowed the tabloids to dictate the mood for too long as it is. That is another big part of the problem for me - we've all been calling each other 'scum' for so long we can hardly remember how to do anything else.

I really feel for people who've spent a lot of time and energy building up city centre communities and organising all the positive things. They must be feeling very worn down this week.

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Jean said...

I love your new blog, Rachel. Sorry you came home to this, but very glad to know you as another sane and caring voice and that I read you this morning - I have a feeling I'm not going to like many of the voices in this afternoon's parliamentary debate.

Rachel Fox said...

Caring is a big word, Jean. One we need to keep... no matter how hard it gets!
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Kim Ayres said...

Very well put.

We live in an economy that runs on consumerism and are bombarded with 10,000 messages a day that we should want things, then get surprised when those who have less help themselves to consumer goods at the first opportunity.

I also can't help but think your point about "fun" is right on the mark. If you're bored stupid with no prosepects for a job or a beter way of life, and hanging around on street corners with your mates is all you can do most of the time, then how much fun is a riot going to be? I can't say for certain that when I was that age, if I'd been there I wouldn't have been joining in. At that age I didn't have as much empathy and thoughts for the future

Rachel Fox said...

When I was at secondary school we had things we even called 'riots' on a regular basis (rebellion, noise, disobedience, anger). We weren't on TV and we didn't wear hoods but I'm sure that at least some of us we would have jumped at those chances if they'd been offered. And we weren't scum - we didn't really even have much grounds for anger in some cases.

ed iglehart said...

And, it's well to recognise that our pets live better than half the world's children...

I'm afraid this may be the shape of much to come...

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I'm one of those people who's been expecting eruptions and am surprised it took so long. Never good being proved right in such matters though. Like my eleven year old I wish it wasn't so... about so many things.
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The Weaver of Grass said...

Well said, Rachel - I agree with a lot of what you say. But I was heartened to see the 'army' of people who signed up to get out on the streets and begin the clean up. It is only a minority doing all the damage.
But I do agree about banks/royalty/rich folk et al (not least of them grossly overpaid footballers) - and I think Nick Clegg's performance when speaking to the inner city folk on the first day, said it all. He is not up to the job. I just begin to wonder who is though.

Rachel Fox said...

I'm not so sure about the 'minority' thing - it is people from many walks of life taking part, people of various ages, from different areas and backgrounds. And whilst it is good that folk (any folk) go out to clear up it worries me when the papers try and make the divisions even wider with this (the 'good' army vs the 'bad'). This is complicated real life not a Harry Potter book so whilst there are goods and bads they are not always so clear cut. Not for me anyway.
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Rachel Fox said...

p.s. just been reading an interesting article.. not about London but about violence and how people can get trapped into it... and then pulled back out again. It's about Chicago and it's worth a look
here

sunnydunny said...

Very well put, Rachel. I'm old enough to remember the 1968 riots, but this is different. Maybe all riots are different, in underlying causes, motivations and triggers.
Colin

Anonymous said...

Here’s a very good background article – Catherine Mayer, “Britain’s Mean Streets”, Time, 2008 – that gives an insight into the problems England has been facing. It’s quite long, but it’s worth it:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1725547,00.html

All the govt. could come up with was the high-profile pouring of money into sophisticated playgrounds. It's the tone in society that's all wrong. Mutual respect is lacking.

Given this insight, how can we be surprised at the riots?

You're right about a strong leader being the key to progress. And yes, it would be nice if the royal family had some clout, backbone or whatever.

I remember when there was a drought there was a picture of Prince Charles' bath with a line drawn low down on it to show the max depth of water permitted. The royal family should go in the front line here. But they are paralyzed byh fear or something. Someone should tell them their jobs are at stake.

Duncan

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I think you're right, Colin. There are things in common but they're never exactly the same. Things move on.

I will read that piece, Duncan. As for leaders... I don't think a strong leader can do everything but they can at least provide some focus for hope and improvement (rightly or wrongly!). And re the royals... I'm afraid I come from the 'why do we still have them?' school. In fact if Scotland does vote for independence and lose the royals (I'm never quite clear how that will work... is it ever mentioned?) then I'd be happy for here at least. Sadly 'The King's Speech' (a very enjoyable movie) brought back a lot of royalist feeling in England I think... but that was Colin Firth and not a real royal!! And it was history. As for the new lot - any fool can get married.
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Selma said...

This is one of the best pieces on the riots I have read, Rachel. My cousin is a social worker in London and shares your views. It's almost as if we're facing a turning point in some parts of our societies where that ever-increasing gap between rich and poor will no longer be tolerated. Not that being from a low socioeconomic status is any reason for violence but it does plant a lot of seeds of dissent that need to be addressed by government.

I don't know what the answer is. I think the reasons for social unrest are incredibly complex but if disaffected, disenfranchised people in any society are consistently ignored it only stands to reason there will be a backlash of some sort.

I saw that a man died as a result of one of the riots which is just awful and I feel for all those people living in the affected areas who were so afraid. It really is a heartbreaking situation.

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks, Selma. And you're right on two counts - it's complex (some people would have it's very simple...) and it's heartbreaking.

Rachel Fenton said...

At last - someone saying things I can relate to.

I actually found myself liking Russell Brand this week - you read his pence worth in the Gruniad?

Rachel Fox said...

I did try to read it but it was very rambly (the cheek of me, I know!) and it seemed to be largely about him. I'm not a huge fan ("let's never forget that we're the real story" - Broadcast News). Though I like the way he uses unusual words - in general.
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Enchanted Oak said...

Very good to read these viewpoints. Since here in California I've known nothing but race riots which go out after a bit on their own steam, no social changes whatsoever... and then a generation later, flame up again, then die, and on with the status quo, I'm wondering if that's the nature of the beast. On another note: Why IS the monarchy silent, do you think?

Rachel Fox said...

This was a lot more than race riot though... despite the original spark. It was race riot, class riot, consumer riot, age riot, complete-loss-of-any-hope-or-direction riot, need-a-new-laptop riot... many strands.

As for the monarchy - if any of them even open their mouths just now the very sound of their plummy voices draws attention to the differences between them'n'us. And then maybe, just maybe, someone might think of breaking their windows instead of a shop's. And maybe they've read a book or two about the French revolution... heads on sticks and all that.

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Mrs A said...

Brilliant post and excellent dialogue. "This was a lot more than race riot though... despite the original spark. It was race riot, class riot, consumer riot, age riot, complete-loss-of-any-hope-or-direction riot, need-a-new-laptop riot..." - perfect x

Rachel Fox said...

Ah ha - the infamous Mrs A. You make my sentence sound like a poem! Been avoiding those of late...
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Totalfeckineejit said...

And the irony is that those labelling 'The Scum' are scum themselves only worse as they have no excuse, quite the opposite in fact with their priveleged lives.And these rioters are quite likely the children of previous generation of rioters and nothing has changed and so it will go on and governments are happy to sacrifice some or even many for their own greater reward.The appalling thing is They used to show Walt Disneys Snow white every ten years so that each new generation of children could see it. Now we have riots every ten years from these new generations of broken children.Broken and sacrificed so that others can thrive.

Rachel Fox said...

The gaps just keep on growing...
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