London

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:

  1. Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens
  2. The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi
  3. The Heat of the Day, Elizabeth Bowen
  4. Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
  5. About a Boy, Nick Hornby

To all of you reading this in London; please stay safe.

59 comments

    1. Glad to hear it Claire! Adopted Londoners are just as good as Born and Bred in my book! I am so pleased to see it has died down now and hope you are staying safe.

  1. Well said. Thank you. And I believe you will be a one of those that supports London as it continues to renew itself. And thank you too for the book list. A wonderful blog…do hope you will continue it whilst ‘back home’!!

    1. Thank you very much – I am definitely a supporter and I won’t stand for people trying to destroy my home!

      Thank you so much – of course I will – I shall be reunited with my books at last so reading will commence in earnest!

  2. Thank you, Rachel, for so beautifully expressing your heartfelt joy, love, hope and pride for the amazing city that London is.

    I know your heart is breaking as you watch the news and hear from people back home, and I know you wish you were there so that you could do something to help. But, Rachel, just by posting this, you ARE doing something very important.

    As to the people who asked you if you are feeling ashamed, I – as a transplanted New Yorker now living in Ireland – am ashamed of those people who are asking such an insensitive and inappropriate question in the first place.

    London will get back on its feet, and collectively restore itself, as before. Just as New York City has done after September 11th. Our collective humanity, good will, generosity, kindness and love will prevail over anything that attempts to take that away.

    My hubby is in Birmingham at the moment, on business, and he too has told me that there are also riots there and is somewhat chaotic in different pockets of the downtown/city centre area, but that he is safe. albeit somewhat eerily quiet, as Claire had described earlier about London.

    Please try and keep positive and calm, Rachel. It’s difficult at this particular moment in time, but this too will pass, and the fine and spirited city of London will heal itself, in time.

    1. Thank you June for your always lovely words – I heartily agree. Goodness WILL always prevail.

      How awful for you – I hope your husband has managed to stay safe from harm and gets back to you quickly.

      I am feeling so proud today after reading of all that has been done by ordinary Londoners to protect their communities, stand up for what is right, and clean up the damage – it’s fantastic and restores my faith in humanity. Same goes for people all over England who have been affected – us Brits are made of strong stuff!

  3. With the current economic crisis, this could happen anywhere – it’s happened in American cities before (the Watts riots are an example). I agree, Londoners have proven themselves to be the most resilient city-dwellers in the world. I read today that one person was shot, and my thought was, “What? Only one? Thank God this wasn’t New York or Chicago!”

    Everybody keep safe over there.

    1. Well exactly, Mumsy! We were having this discussion at work today and despite the dismissive comments of my co workers, they did have to agree that as far as riots go, they have been pretty civilised in not ending up as gun slinging battles in the streets. Thank goodness!

  4. I agree with June and feel ashamed and embarrassed that Americans would say those things to you. We certainly have no room to talk. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  5. First of all, my thoughts and my prayers go out to Londoners and beyond who are being affected by the riots. The spirit and resilience of your countrymen and women will see this through, Rachel.

    I am sorry for my fellow Americans who ask if you are ashamed. Inexcusable behavior and inappropriate question. We here in the States have had our share of public unrest and thuggery to ever pose such a question. Of course you will return to your beloved London and she will pull herself up, as she always has, by her bootstraps and move forward. Here in Chicago we had some mob action of people being beaten while going about their business on city streets. It has settled down, and London will settle down as well.

    As others have commented, Rachel, your post is a positive and proactive response to the violence. Your thoughtful words, as well as such a wonderful literary list, are all part of helping to heal and I commend you for doing so.

    Peace to all.

  6. Why on earth would you be ashamed? What a ridiculous thing to ask you! I should think they would be asking if your family and friends are all doing okay. Meanwhile, sheesh, London is a mess right now. I hope your friends and family are all doing okay! Of course you are proud to be a Londoner! London is wonderful! If I had to pick somewhere to be when disaster struck, I’d pick — well, Louisiana, actually, because they would throw a party and give me liquor, but London would be my second, and perhaps more practical, choice. London is spectacularly good in a crisis.

    I keep on being surprised at the areas affected — Brixton was always going to riot, but like, Ealing? So weird!

    1. I know! I couldn’t believe it! All my friends and family are fine, thank you for asking – thankfully my friend who lives in the midst of it all stayed safely inside. London IS spectacular in a crisis but you Louisiana folk certainly know how to deal with your fair share of hardships too.

      I know, and Clapham too – crazy. It just goes to show how close communities of the wealthy and the destitute are in London – all it takes is a few streets and you can be in totally different territory.

  7. Any American who asks such a thoughtless question is too young to remember, or has a selective memory about, the riots here. My hometown and a lot of others burned, despite the efforts of hard working and good hearted individuals to save their homes and businesses and those of their neighbors.
    You, your friends and family, and all of Britain are in the prayers of many here.

    1. I agree with Liz! I remember watching from a mere 70 miles away as a small child what was happening with MOVE in Philadelphia. Talk about being afraid of those images on the television! Riots in LA?? Anyone remember those??? No need of judgment from any American!

  8. I’m also stunned that anyone would ask you whether you want to go back or wonder if you are ashamed! Why would you be ashamed? This is something that has happened and can happen anywhere and it sounds like the vast majority of people in those neighborhoods want the police to bring it under control and are trying to help their neighbors. It’s incredibly sad to see, but as you say it seems to be a lot of thuggery–people just acting out in criminal behavior just because they can at the moment. Whatever problems people are having economically–this is solving nothing since the people they are robbing from are just ordinary people trying to get by like everyone else in the city. Hope your family and friends are safe and that the police quickly bring this under control!

    1. Exactly, Danielle – thank you for your kind and wise words. Thankfully things seem to have stopped as quickly as they began and no one I know was hurt or had anything damaged, thank goodness! So many people stood up to the wrongdoers from what I saw on the news and I have been so happy to see community spirit alive and well in my city!

  9. I very much enjoy your blog – currently reading the Best of Everything because of it. I live in Vancouver and was caught in the middle of our riot this year – very scary and very unbelievable. However I have better memories of the citizens who came out the next day and started to clean up my city. London, and England, will get through this.

    1. Thank you Bronwen, how lovely to hear that! Glad you’re enjoying The Best of Everything – it’s fantastic, isn’t it? Exactly – it’s the way people deal with the aftermath that is the true mark of a city.

  10. The world is in a mess. Watching the news is so painful and it seems to bounce from one country to another
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity ( Yeats )

    1. I know, it’s sad and frightening, isn’t it? But the response by ordinary people intent on protecting and preserving their communities gives me hope.

  11. I feel a deep sadness for your beloved city. When I visited London 11 yrs ago, I was enamored with the city immediately. Being a true lover of your country’s literature and having a deep appreciation of the spirit of your country’s people and their friendly generosity and interest while I visited, I am devastated to see this kind of chaos occurring there.

    That said, people bent on destructive behavior for whatever reasons they feel compelled to unleash their own personal demons is not indicative of one city in any one country. I’m just sorry that your beloved home is experiencing this type of violence and fright.

    1. Thank you Tina. I am grateful for your love and England and belief in us as people! I am just as shocked to see it happening and never thought I would witness such actions on such a widespread level. Thankfully the true citizens have come together to put a stop to it and I am proud that we have a nation of largely decent people who love their communities – I think the riots have shown people just how important their communities are to them, and they won’t take them for granted anymore.

  12. Poor London and poor Londoners (I am one, living far from home). And now, this morning, we’ve been hearing reports of copy-cat rioting and mayhem in many other cities in the Midlands and the North.
    People without education or future or moral instruction must be the culprits. I keep trying to imagine what that must feel like. And I fail. I’m so grateful that I grew up when London was safe (all things are relative).There’ll be a lot of blaming but also a lot of wonderful strong and courageous people doing their best to cope and clear up.
    Our people have a reputation for survival!

    1. It’s a terrible shame and it is indicative of many problems in our society, but I am encouraged by the backlash and the support of so many ordinary people coming together for the greater good. Londoners are a tough bunch! It’s hard for those of us so far away to see our city hurting but thank goodness things seem to have cleared up now. Have you seen the video of the hundreds of people in Eltham who came out to protect the High Street? It was wonderful! Pure South East London!

  13. It is terrible to watch what is happening in London. Your words today Rachel are superb. We are all hoping things will settle very soon and our thoughts are with everyone in these troubled areas.

  14. Though I’m sorry people have said you must not want to go home, I’m not surprised. Few people are capable of thinking themselves into someone else’s position. Your city has been through far worse and come out greater! I hope everyone you love is well, and that the situation calms itself soon.

    1. Thank you Jenny – yes indeed it has and it hasn’t been beaten by these riots either! Everyone I love is fine and thank goodness things have settled down – I was starting to wonder when it would stop but it seems to have dissipated as suddenly as it began.

  15. Some would say that Karma is a bitch and if there is any justice let’s hope the yobs involved lose something one day that they care about and worked hard for. Something tells me their inability to understand the concept of putting in long hours to raise a family and pay your own way is part of the problem. That ‘broom brigade’ on the other hand are absolute stars! I wish I were in London this very minute to do anything I could to help with the clean-up. My trip next month can’t come soon enough, Rachel!

    1. Oh yes – many of them are already being punished and let’s hope they live to regret what they did for the rest of their lives when they find themselves struggling to get jobs and support themselves because of a criminal conviction on their record. I love that broom brigade too! Absolute heroes! Glad you are looking forward to coming Darlene – I can’t wait to see you!

  16. I’m also appalled that anyone would say such a thing to you. If I were there, I’d give you a hug! I’ve been watching the scenes and becoming more and more outraged at what these repellent bullies are trying to do to that magnificent city. They should be horsewhipped. I share your pride in those Londoners who will see the city through this.

  17. Thanks for this very moving post-I am quite sure virtually none of the rioters have ever read (or perhaps even heard off) any of the five books you mentioned-

  18. Thanks for an incredibly beautiful post.

    Some of the scenes and images here have been shocking, but it’s good to see that people are coming together to rebuild the neighbourhoods and make it feel like ‘home’ again. The problem though, is so much deeper. After the events of last week, one can’t sympathise with the rioters and looters. One can’t even begin to justify their actions. And, can’t even begin to have conversations with people who start by saying the rioters have ‘legitimate grievances’ or/and apologising for their behaviour. Anyone involved should be punished and should pay the price for their actions.

    However, it kind-of sad that this is this what our society has gotten to. Are there actually so many people here whose future is so bleak that they don’t care about the ramifications of their actions? That rioting and looting is acceptable over the alternate of seeking a better future? If true, that is depressing as well.

    I take solace in the fact that people have come together to protect their neighbourhoods, and essentially taken a stand that people cannot get away by disrupting life, causing chaos and wreaking havoc. That’s what London is about, and long may that continue.

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