I’m a Londoner. I will always be a Londoner. My grandfather grew up on the Old Kent road. My mum was born on the Peabody estate in Pimlico. I spent a lot of time as a kid staring out the window of my grandmother’s flat over at Battersea Power Station never understanding the optical illusion which meant I could only see three of the four towers. I walk these streets weaving in and out of tourists, on autopilot, pointing out landmarks to Lula where I used to work (I temped A LOT) and the places I got fired from. I cross the roads to avoid places I kissed people I shouldn’t, I smile as I stroll past bars, restaurants, museums and shops – scenes of first dates, first sightings, drunken birthdays and my first pair of knee high boots. It’s in my heart. London will always be my city no matter where I live.
Which is why this city also has the power to break my heart.
I worked for almost ten years in the area of social inclusion – creating and running projects (with the help of amazingly talented committed staff and volunteers) that supported people who were socially excluded to feel more connected to the communities that make up this city and other cities around the country.
Then I watched the riots play out across the UK and wondered what difference any of it had made. There are too many conflicting thoughts at play in my mind and in the minds of everyone I talk to right now. I feel a mix of shame, embarrassment and anger. I also feel huge sadness at the divides that have ripped our communities apart, the dangerous and widening wealth gap , the lack of respect and pride others, especially the young, seem to have for this city and the awesome people who live here.
In the days that followed the riots, people piled onto the streets with brooms to clear up the mess. I actually cried at pictures of people pouring tea for riot police, at those forced to defend their own property, at children who swept away broken glass in front of shops smashed up in their streets. It gave me hope and it restored my pride and faith in this city. Up to a point – show me a picture of Boris Johnson or David Cameron right now and I’d happily tear it to shreds. I’m also frankly appalled by some of the racist, right wing rhetoric appearing on Facebook and Twitter, often coming from people I know.
We’re leaving London in 10 days. Walking away from London at this point feels strange. I feel like I’m deserting my city, throwing my hands up and walking away in despair whilst shaking my head. I feel like I should stay and be part of something that I hope develops from this – a greater sense of community and pride in our homes. And two years ago, working in the volunteering sector I would have felt a huge rush of energy at the potential that could come from such a hideous chain of events. Unfortunately, Cameron in all his wisdom has dismantled most of the voluntary sector that could have been harnessed to transform the will on the streets right now into long-lasting action. Shame on him.
Having said that I can’t wait to get back to Bali. Perhaps because it’s smaller there the ex-pat community relies on itself rather like a tribe for support. It’s that sense of community that we never properly felt when living here (despite the fact I worked on community projects) that we have found in Ubud, and which I hope London begins to find again.
Whatever happens I wait with baited breath. I want to bring Lula back every year and walk her through these streets pointing out the places where her great grandparents house was bombed out and where they rebuilt it. I want to show her where her nana went to school, and where I first kissed her father. I want to show her the city that I love so much. I want her to grow up feeling like she’s a Londoner and feeling pride in this city and her heritage.
And right now I feel like it could go either way.