Thursday, 25 August 2011

"This one time, there was this riot....." August, 2011

I always figured if I was going to witness a riot, it would most likely involve myself stampeding for the new Alexander McQueen at Primark prices*. Instead, from my flat I sat and watched the London riots unfold outside, unable to turn away, almost the way you are magnetised to watching a car crash scene. Although it really wasn’t so gruesome. I’ll take you back to the day it all kicked off…..
It’s Monday afternoon and I’ve just arrived back from Spain, heading straight to Waitrose to get my ‘post holiday diet’ rabbit food for dinner and I almost walk straight into the grill that’s been pulled down. My first instinct is to be furious with Waitrose for being shut and then relief that it’s only the main door (although I remain mildly annoyed with their incompetence). When we question the lady at the counter she says it’s in preparation for the riots. What riots? Apparently north London has had trouble........ but surely they wouldn’t come to the south west, at the very least to Clapham? Walking home I notice a few shops are shut and it’s not even 5pm. I Google ‘Clapham and riots’ but nothing comes up so therefore *obviously*  if Google doesn’t know about it then it’s not really true. I go off for a run, laughing at the prospect of riots in our area and make some jokes to myself when I see the Park Police out on patrol…..what are they going to do, use their leaf blowers?
After my post-holiday-exercise-regime run I head to the pub to meet Kim and Shereen for a pint or two (forgotten post holiday diet already) and at the start of a fresh round of drinks my friend Amie rings me, panicked, to say there is a mob of 50 hooded youths (and growing rapidly) and riot police outside her flat which is just down the road. I instruct the girls to get up and leave, immediately. Not saying why but impressed they don’t question me and abandoned full pints without hesitation. I questioned this later, scolded myself for not sculling it, little did I know I would need a stiff drink just a short time later.
My flat is just off the main street of Clapham Junction, above the Pizza Metro, not far from where the trouble is, and I argue with Kim about her walking home, trying to make her ring a taxi but finally compromising that my flatmate, Kate Jones, will walk her home along the back road that connects our two houses. When she gets home she rings to say everything has kicked off the these hooded youths have began a demolition spree  and now Jones is now trapped at her friend’s house, randomly next door to Kim’s. Eventually Jones rings our flatmate Paul to go and fetch her, I try to make Paul take a taxi but he’s intent on being the hero and you can’t argue with an Irish criminal lawyer, they think they know it all. They arrive back to the flat a bit dazed by what they’ve just witnessed although they didn’t feel unsafe because at this stage the frenzied youths are only focused on stealing, one even stepped aside with his plasma TV said ‘excuse me’ and let them pass.
Meanwhile, I have Shereen at my flat freaking out. She’s fresh off the boat and already having a tough start to London life so these circumstances are escalating her uncertainties. At the pub I’d been telling her how great London is and now she’s shouting at me ‘I thought you said London was safe’ yeah..... damn you karma you always like to show up and prove me wrong don’t you. Amazingly, I remain calm and somewhat composed. My friends who know me well will be doubtful that this is the truth. Instead of having the usual Kate Senior Ridiculous Meltdown I do practical things like change out of long floaty maxi dress into shorts and lace ups to enable running from window to window for rubbernecking opportunities. I also worked out a fire escape route, which involved climbing out windows onto neighbours roofs and a lot of shimmying down drain pipes…..that did not impress me much. We turned off the lights so we could hang out our second floor windows and survey the scene without the risk of being identified, occasionally my anger overpowered my ‘practical’ nature and I yell out ‘you little mungrels’. Then I smartly retreat because a friend in Peckham reported petrol bombs were now being thrown around his street.
 I set up camp in our living room with the news on, flicking between searching on the Internet for more information, ranting on Facebook and swapping stories on instant chat because all the phone networks are down. Between Amie’s roof window view of Debenhams, Kim’s flat in view of KFC on lavender hill (plus Laura on next st) and my flat on the corner of the escape route, we form a triangle over Clapham and I can get instant updates of what’s going on.
From her window Kim can see hundreds of the rioters trashing the shops and restaurants in the heart of Clapham Junction. She said she saw a lady drive her car up, park one child up as security and drag off another child to help her bring armfuls of loot from Debenhams and filled the car before skidding off. Meanwhile I'm watching in absolute disbelief as teenagers, some just children, are staggering down the streets with bulging sacks fastened from sheets. The smug little buggers were not even running away, they swaggered around like they owned the show, and for about 7 hours they did. No policemen in sight, the riot police stayed half an hour and then nobody could recall their presence. When eventually the police do turn up they stand by and watch the carnage, thumbs tucked into their bullet proof vests and a smirk on their face. I imagine the Bombay rugby team could have done a better job than them.
The majority of the rioters are young and there appears to be as many girls as there are boys, but it’s hard to identify accurately under their hooded disguise. Some of the stuff they were hauling off was unarguably a good score, although reports will later come out that a lot of the electronics can be tracked. I spot three young girls with arm loads of awful beige grandma style handbags; I roll my eyes and mutter ‘amateurs’. Another bright spark is sprinting past with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s stretched out like a trophy. The ridiculousness reaches its peak when I witness a looter with his plasma waiting at the lights for the green man to flash go.
Our flat door sits nestled around the back of the of the Italian pizza shop, a five foot wall juts a metre out from the side of the house. Usually it’s the Italians perch for a cigarette break but tonight the hoodrats are stacking their loot against it, waiting for the wheels to arrive, and we can’t help but joke about opening our door and snaking their loot back off them (to hand in to the police of course).
In all honesty the riots didn’t get ugly until the riotrats ran out of places to loot. Waterstone’s bookstore, the health food shop and charities shops weren’t of much interest. So they turned from burglars to pyromaniacs. SKYnews had been playing the horrific scenes of the fire blazing in Croydon, a few suburbs away. But suddenly it flicked to a fire in Clapham Junction, at the party store not far from Kim’s house. Yes, she confirmed, it’s gone from smoking to roaring and can now be labelled ‘out of control’. When her street is advised to be evacuated, due to the risk the helium canisters in the party shop pose, she packs a bag and heads to ours. SKYnews then starts running a feed along the bottom of the page ‘Carphone warehouse in Clapham Junction is on fire’. This shop is in the same block, three shops down from my place. And now I’m officially afraid. Fire scares me. My housemate offers to put the batteries back into our smoke alarm while I scream something about incompetence and race up the stairs to pack an emergency bag of valuables. In the heat  of the moment  (pun intended) I’m fumbling around my room, shoving my valuables into a bag. So far I’ve dismissed most of my jewellery (all from the high street sales) and feel panicked that the only valuable things I can think to pack are my makeup and favourite Elle Mac bras. My NZ passport – probably most important valuable item – is nowhere to be found. I remembered that I hid it in a safe place, so safe of course I can’t find it. Before we (I) jump to conclusions and run up the road like madwoman with my bag of unvaluables, I decide to go and check if Carphone Warehouse is actually on fire. Shereen and I step outside and a car skids around the corner, halts and four guys jump out and run towards us. We scream and run back inside. They probably were running past us to the shops but I decide it’s a Man Job and Paul can do the checking. He returns to report Carphone Warehouse is not on fire. Soon it’s well past midnight and nothing else is on fire so we deem it safe to go to bed. But I sleep in my clothes, sneakers beside my bed……..just in case.

* There is no such range of Alexander McQueen at primark prices.

The day after the night before.....

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