I grew up on streets that are today charred and littered with debris. I have friends who are trapped inside their own homes as marauding gangs of looters roam their local area. Friends have been emailing me, telling me that I wouldn’t recognise London anymore as they describe the scenes outside of their homes and offices; it’s eerily quiet, the shops are boarded up, the streets look like a war zone and people are afraid to go outside.
Americans have said to me today that I must be feeling ashamed; that I must not want to go home. Well, they’re wrong. I’m even more proud of being a Londoner today, because of people like this man, who formed a blockade together with his neighbours to stop looters from attacking their homes, and people like these, who have come out onto the streets to clean up the mess left behind after last night’s violence. These are the real Londoners, who keep calm and carry on in a crisis and who love their city with a fierce pride, not the gangs of opportunist thugs who are intent on causing damage, chaos and violence on the streets of what are supposedly their own communities.
It breaks my heart to see London like this, and I have been close to tears all day thinking about how London, London, of all places! could really be the city I am helplessly watching burn on the news. However, I know that, thanks to the vast majority of Londoners who are good, upstanding, generous individuals who care about their neighbours and their communities and are proud of the city they call home, London will get up, dust itself off and rise from the ashes once again. We’ve done it before, after all, and we will do it again. I just wish I was there to help.
In honour of my brave and beautiful London, here are five books that I think really bring its streets to life, and celebrate the true spirit of this fine city that has withstood everything that centuries of civilisation has thrown at it, from fires to wars to terrorism, and come out fighting:
- Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens
- The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi
- The Heat of the Day, Elizabeth Bowen
- Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
- About a Boy, Nick Hornby
To all of you reading this in London; please stay safe.