This blog is not an analysis of the British riots. It is a brief take on my own experience of living 35 years in a mixed society in South London
In 1983, I moved from leafy Putney to Lambeth Borough to be nearer the West End. None of my friends lived there, however I was happy. My flat was across the Thames from the Tate Gallery, only three tube stops to Green Park, and I loved the river walk to the London Eye. But by the 1990s, I noticed a change.
Aggression was common. Searching for a hairdresser one day, I entered a shop to enquire the cost of a blow-dry. “Stick with your own kind,” said its black receptionist.
Spitting had increased. But while TB was up 40%, no one moved to educate refugees that the habit is potentially deadly. This not withstanding, the refugees -mainly Somali – were likable people and a traveller to the Horn of Africa, I would often stop for a friendly chat.
By now I was noticing the increasing number of children of ethnic Caribbean origin. I learned that Jamaicans who father many kids are considered virile. They’re called “Baby Farmers” I was informed of someone who knew of a man who had sired thirteen children by seven different women.
I began to clock youths who gathered outside the tube around five. They wore lots of bling and drove big BMWs, but pushing drugs was the only opportunity for such tragic kids, products of casual sex, often without a birth certificate, and with no educational qualifications.
Blame for current disorder is attributed to government cutbacks on public services, but the benefits system has been milked for years. In the Post Office I was alone in buying stamps. One day a man in the queue boasted he’d sent his £300 allowance “right back to de folks in Kingston.”
By 2000 the rise of gang culture was evident. Knives were used with impunity. Returning home at 4.30 one afternoon, a neighbour had her face slashed for her mobile phone.
Burly, unmuzzled dogs wearing spiked collars then became the gang weapon of choice. Half a dozen hoodies, parading such animals saw pedestrians scatter. En route to the dentist one morning, I inadvertently stepped in front of a big black man who picked me up by the elbows and lifted me out of his way.
The owners of small businesses along the high street – the Eritrean in the deli, Algerians in the Pound Store, Afghans in the hardware, Pakistanis repairing computers, expressed concern at the growing belligerence. We agreed the root problem was a hole where family life should offer support. But with no father, and a rejection of rules for decent behavior laid down by a struggling single mother, many black youths had morphed into ferals existing outside normal community life.
By 2010-11, anger and resentment was simmering, a potent ingredient in the quickening decline being white ” low life” telling their kids to “shut up ” and to “fuck off”. “Fuck off” said a six year year old boy I saw stealing sweets in Sainsburys. On another occasion, I came upon two teens riding bicycles around the toiletries counter. Yes. Inside the supermarket!
Away at work, the professional minority where I lived missed such goings-on. Or if they knew, their lips were sealed in fear of being called a racist.
But the Indians who owned the newsagent knew. They moved to America. The Cockney fishmonger sold up — ‘ad enough — he told me – and astonishingly, a mini-cab driver said he was returning to Nigeria (it was safer in Lagos!).
Finally I too decided to withdraw before the in-balance erupted into urban violence and it is with a special sadness I have watched this happen from far away in Australia.