My City Of Ruins – The Riots & The Olympics

With The Olympics about to kick off Ross Keen reflects on what was happening in the streets of London a year ago – The Riots.

London 2012 is finally upon us. After nearly a decade of planning and preparation ”“ a monumental effort that regardless of opinion deserves admiration ”“ London, my hometown, is top of the world.

And deservingly so right? The Orwellian Shard is complete, we have Cable Cars above the Thames, you can scale The O2 and of course, providing you are rich and / or something to do with corporate things, you can watch the Olympics.

An estimated (by me) 200 million people will watch The Games in some capacity.

But how many of them will remember what London looked like just a year ago? The Summer of 2011. When the streets were on fire? When faceless hooded masses roamed the city looking for a Foot Locker?

It seems like a world apart and long ago that London bathed in a week of Riots.

The shooting of an alleged gang member by Police sparked nearly a week of panic on the streets of London. Ironically I saw Morrissey at the Brixton Academy the very night it all begun ”“ it is not believed that the two events are related.

No. We all know what caused the Riots.

Years of oppression, Austerity, lack of opportunity, lack of Education, glass ceilings, New Labour’s failure to implement Multiculturalism, heavy handed Policing, Thatcher’s Underclass.

None of these root causes have been mentioned, let alone addressed, by Westminster.

I’m not naïve enough to not appreciate the fact that there was a degree of opportunism involved. The chance of a 42” Plasma was undoubtedly more of a factor than the chance to stick two fingers up to David Cameron.

But again you have to ask yourself how did an Individual get to that point in their life?

I have 3 outstanding memories from the Riots.

1. Question Time. There was a clear message that the Rioters were ”ËœCriminal’ coming from the Establishment. It seemed as if the Government were blaming them for being born that way and not helping themselves. Note that the only discussion since the Riots has concerned punishment.

2. Save Our Streets. Social Media was largely blamed for the spread of the Riots. But there was also evidence of the Great British Psyche ”“ the inherent Right Wing Daily Mail views of ”ËœCall in the Army/Save Our Streets’. We are very quick to wave the flag and ironically this was quite an impressive display of Community ”“ just the polar opposite of anything good.

3. Do you have a Nectar Card? I spent the second night of Rioting at work. In Sainsbury’s. Asking people if they have a Nectar card. On the verge of revolution and I was asking people if they have a Nectar Card. This is a low. (Even when I would accidentally ask for an Oyster card by mistake it was never actually as funny as people might imagine.)

All of these experiences sum up our Society’s ills. Our Big Society.

The Olympics take place in some of London’s poorest areas. They represent a chance to improve life for thousands.

But we all know this will not be the case. Normal people won’t benefit.

I used to love Dyson Airblade Hand Dryers ”“ they’re quite possibly (and sadly) the greatest engineering feat of the 21st Century. Except now they are apparently an ”ËœOfficial Product of The Olympics’. Does this mean that, as Jessica Ennis strides towards the Shotput pitch, she will steady herself and dry her clammy hands with an Airblade? Her clammy hands that she has washed with her Evian Water, the official water of the Olympic Games. And then she will throw her Shotput to the sound of one man’s applause ”“ one man in an empty stadium. James Dyson sits alone. Everyone else has to watch on the Telly despite it all happening just around the corner.

The Olympics are a marketing exercise. The money used to fund the bid and build the infrastructure will clearly generate money ”“ but it won’t be available to reinvest in the depraved and dilapidated slums and suburbs of London.

It is the most expensive Vanity Project since Kylie Minogue’s new forehead.

Walking down Rushey Green in Lewisham this week, with the murky skies and the driving rain, I have never seen so many people window shopping through the bins.

There are people with next to nothing in this life. Of course there are those who positively thrive off their status. These are the ones who were straight to Currys when the first gunshots rung out in Tottenham.The debauched Dickensian scoundrels and low-lifes; the hungry and the hunted. They prosper because they have to so as to survive. But they aren’t conditioned that way.

”ËœThe Secret History Of Our Streets’ on the BBC has been contrasting individual streets and areas in 2012 London to how they were at the turn of the 19th Century when Social Reformer John Booth was compiling his research.

And it is remarkable how really nothing has changed. Poverty still exists. The Working Class still exists. And an Underclass ”“ who the attitude towards is a very Victorian blame game ”“ exists. Only the fashion of Poverty has changed.

My City is in ruins, and it will be forever more.


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