I was born in Lewisham, I grew up in Hackney, I’ve lived in Tottenham and in Walthamstow and in Southwark I now live in Lambeth. Over the last few days I’ve been frightened for myself, and for my family and I’ve been desperate to be at home, safely, with the door closed to the turmoil outside. But despite all of that, most of all I’ve been determined. Determined not to lose sight of why I love my city.
I went to a school at which there were over 60 Languages spoken, from Guajarati to Finnish. Despite that, we all spoke to each other in English and helped newly arrived people to do so too. An abiding memory of my school years is the spontaneous round of applause given to a classmate who – just a few months before had fled violence in former Yugoslavia and was unable to speak a word of English – took his turn to read a verse of poetry and did so perfectly.
I’m proud of the influence that growing up in this City has had on me. From my accent and range of language (in my very English family, my Mum has a Turkish nickname, my sister can speak fluent Jamaican patois all of us overuse the term “innit”) to the education value of being surrounded by so much music, art, theatre and cultural opportunities to experience all that the world has to offer on my doorstep.
If there is a War on Christmas anywhere (and I strongly doubt there is) then there certainly isn’t in London. We just love an excuse for a good knees-up is all. So we celebrate Christmas but also Diwali, Eid, Hannakuh, St Patrick’s Day and New Year (British and Chinese). That’s often a war on sleep, for some less devout revellers it can be a war on our livers, some might consider it a covert action in the war on mono-culturalism. Myself I just consider it one of the great perks of living in one of the biggest and most diverse cities in the World.
There will be many responses to what has happened in the last few days.
First it will need to be stopped and there are plenty of real law and order experts who should feed into that process better than armchair Generals like me. In the longer term, there will need to be important examinations of the social and political conditions which led us here and the ways to minimise the chance of it happening again. We will need to understand, but not in any way excuse, what has happened. We will need to help communities to rebuild their looted and burnt shops, offices and homes. I hope the best minds in the country in this area are hard at work on ensuring a long term and robust response. I have my theories of course. I wouldn’t be politically interested if I didn’t believe in bettering the world and believe I understood ways of doing so. But now is not that time. Not yet.
This is not my first time living through riots in London. One of the things I remember helping the healing process last time, was the rediscovery of the joy that being a Londoner can give you. At its best, the place I grew up is the place of the Hackney Peace Carnival Mural and of this amazing and courageous woman telling it like we all felt it. We’ve seen the absolute worst of what London and Londoners can do and be. There will be a time for punishment, a time for sociology, a time for politics. All of them have to come from a rediscovering of our love for this amazing city. All of them must allow us to hope.