Thursday, 11 August 2011

I wasn't going to do a 'riot' post...

...but it just sort of happened, because it's all that has been on my mind. I fear I've left myself wide open for a beating - never discuss religion or politics - right? Apologies for it being so long.

 I hope the shocking and repulsive behaviour we've had to sit back and watch this week has some positive outcome in the next 30 years. Sure, it's great that people are showing solidarity, coming together to clean up the visible mess. But the invisible mess will take more than a pair of gloves and a broom to clean up.

What about the kids of these kids, what the hell can we do as a wider community to help show them right from wrong, if you've never been shown, you can't make decisions and  just become another sheep.

I am not 'excusing' any of the sickening behaviour we've seen, I just happen to feel everyone is to blame in part. Me included. I DO look at someone in a track suit/hoodie with all the 'chav' trappings and turn my nose up. I do. I've joked about it.

BUT, I also had plenty of middle-class friends who had good upbringings; healthy dinners eaten as a family, well stocked book-shelves, Ecover washing-up liquid, piano in the living room, intelligent conversations ...and sadly, at least 3 of these friends I had, I know - they would have been there, frantically trying to grab trainers, gadgets and anything - just because they could, and 'everyone  else' was doing it.

There is no self-righteousness attached the reason I wouldn't have joined the other looters when I was a teen. I just would have been scared and frightened. Self-preservation would rule, not just pity for the poor shopkeepers and my community pride.

 I do know I'd feel it was wrong and disgraceful if I saw someone smashing up our corner shop, I would NOT think it was funny, clever or a good way to display anger at 'the system'.

 I hope my suggestions for a happier life don't come over as 'holier-than-thou' either. I have very few answers, but if they work for me, maybe they'll work for someone else too...

I'm getting rid of more stuff. I don't buy much 'stuff' because we don't have the money and I hate shopping (even charity shopping can get me down). People give me stuff all the time, carrier bags brimming with stuff. Clothes my friends' kids have outgrown; towels, bedding, shoes, toys, furniture, catalogues (which I use for craft), cutlery, crockery, books...

By the time I've finished with this stuff, it's looking grim. Towels are only fit for the dogs home, bedding only fit for the salvation army bin (too embarrassed to take threadbare bedding to the charity shop and hand to a human). The clothes will have been through at least 4 boys adventures; toilet training, climbing, splashing in puddles, vomiting. Crockery will all be chipped, cracked and useless (though, my sister in law sometimes takes smashed crockery to use as drainage for her orchids).

Toys will be sad, missing their arms and eyes, batteries dead and leaking, and missing that vital component - rendering it redundant. Books will sometimes be creased or the pages welded together with porridge/drool (not mine) - but usually fit for another few generations of readers.

Still, I feel incredibly guilty about getting rid of stuff, even though it's not going into landfill, and even though I didn't buy it. There's enough stuff in the world for everybody to be entertained and comfortable - surely? No, people seem to want more and more and more new 'stuff'.

Is there another way to enjoy life, without buying 'stuff'?  I think so, I've learned to go without buying stuff, and my happiness has increased accordingly.

Like fashion? - no need to go to Top Shop and buy, just have a look and create your own version of that £75 dress with a bit of imagination. Chances are it's a re-hashed look from a generation where they did it better anyhow.

Bored? Go for a walk or a run, seriously - it's that easy to appease boredom/mild melancholy. Look at the sky, the trees, birds, even looking at a dual carriageway from a bridge gives you an interesting perspective, helps you to understand your place - small but capable of rising above.
 Breathe in, the air tastes different all the time. When I run past the river I smell the pungent (akin to stale urine) purple weeds and it reminds me of playing as a child. I inhale the damp trees scent and it reminds me of  those childhood days at Autumn's end -  when all the years warmth is over and no more outdoor play looms, you feel sad but don't know why.

Nobody listens to you? We all go through that phase, few  care about teenagers' views, or those of the elderly/infirm. People seem to go through a stage between 30 and 55 where they're a valid member of society, before and after those ages - invisibility envelops you. "Not Economically Viable" to quote a line from the film Falling Down.

Hungry? Eat protein as well as sugar. For the price of a bottle of Coke and a Greggs steak bake, you can create a healthy meal for at least 2. Your body needs vitamins, minerals, protein and carbohydrates to function well - they should teach you the importance of that at school. Eating well can help overcome a lot of physical, even emotional problems.

Full of nervous energy?  Put the X-box controller down and create something - you have a talent, maybe you just haven't discovered it yet. Try making music,  drawing, painting, photography (even if it's just using your phone camera) write a song, poem or story, try your hand at sewing.

Listen to some different music, there's a reason millions of teenagers found solace  listening to The Smiths - the words are being sung to you, for you. The best person to surprise is yourself.

Sad, lonely, feeling unloved? Talk, it's not easy at first -  it doesn't feel comfortable, but even seemingly obscure fears, hopes and dreams once aired, can become shared goals. The biggest, cheesiest and truest clichĂ© of all - 'you are not alone'.

For me, I've realised life doesn't change all that much between leaving school and joining the adult world.  At work, there will be people who make you feel you're not as good as them, that you don't fit in. Work itself can be boring,  lacklustre. Money worries plague even the most seemingly 'well-off' people at times. The structure and routine that going to work encourages does help you to get through life though. You will meet some of your closest friends through work, too.

Relationships are never easy, but learning to accept differences, explaining your actions and finding a routine together helps. Agree to disagree, pre-empt arguments and work through them before they escalate. Misunderstandings should never lead to relationship breakdowns, the pattern will only repeat itself in your next relationship.

Raising children is part instinct, part luck, part weeding out the good advice from the bad, and mainly about confidence. We make mistakes all the time as parents, and don't ALWAYS have the answer, the chances are you're the most special and important person in the world to your children, that's what makes it so hard and also so easy.

What is life all about?  Maybe it's about always making sure the next generation have a better life than you. Life often imitates art, make sure you choose art to admire which reflects what you want to be.

I'm  sorry - all those mums I deliberately avoided at mother and toddler groups. You were very young, reeked of fags,  gave your children loads of sugary treats, sat looking at your phone and avoided eye-contact. This didn't mean I couldn't at least try to strike up a conversation and show you some respect. Your children were a bit naughty, and I worried my children would get hurt, but I, of all people should understand.

Those teens outside the shop, spitting all the time, swearing loudly, getting in the way, making inappropriate comments...I should say 'thank-you' when you eventually get out of the way, not tut and then whine to Kay and Raj for half an hour about it. Adults like that used to annoy me as a teen.

Was I a 'good' teenager? No. Did I have impeccable manners, behave within the law all the time and endear myself to adults - no way.

I did know what was right and what was wrong, though. I was afforded an enormous amount of freedom, grew up very quickly and experienced things between the ages of 14 and 18 most people don't until they start university or leave home.

What is THE  answer? Is it a return to religion? Capital punishment? National Service? More power for teachers?  I have read all these suggestions, and I don't feel hopeful. Mending a broken community will  require huge change.

What is your suggestion?


  1. First comment goes to me!

    Great post, its refreshing to see posts recently with people actually voicing thier opinions and not just sitting on the fence. I agree with what you have said. I have been guilty of tuting at the hoodies gathering in door ways or in the shopping centre. I do also think these 'kids' parents are responsible for whats happened, we should as parents lead by example but looking at the news footage one family drove up in a car and all of them took part in the looting.

    Sadly however I look around the area where I live and in which they have built lots of lovely new houses in which a percentage has been given to social housing scheme and I see these parents just letting theit kids loose on the neighbourhood, not caring where they are or what they are doing just as long as they are out from under their feet. These young kids children which are aged about 5 to 9 just roam around the houses here in a gang and cause trouble. I have this week witnessed them taking apart the plastic fencing left by the electricity company while fixing a lamp post, these kids kicking it down and waving the pieces they have broken off round their heads and dragging it around the neighbourhood. They cheer each other on in their distructive behaviour.

    These kids are still wondering round the neighbourhood until dark, not one of their parents seem to care what they are up to. These kids are more than likely to be the next generation of trouble makers. It really saddens me. With a little beit of nurture from their parents these could be really lovely children.

    Ok I'll get off my soap box now (and im prob not the first comment now ;o)

  2. If I'd addressed the social deprivation issue in my post it would have read a similar way to yours, I'm furious over it all and it isn't acceptable no matter what but I'm sure it has it's roots initially in a sense of deprivation. The only interesting takes on what has happened have been from the Youth Workers and community workers who actually know the area or have worked with kids just like these.

    I come from a loving family and a comfortable, rural background so I can't pretend I know how these people feel, but even given their circumstances it's a choice to behave the way they have.

    Jem xXx

  3. A similar thing with the housing has happened around the corner from me. Brand new houses with front and back garden, plenty of parking space. Less than 6 months in, 2 of the houses have sofas and broken furniture out the front. One window has been smashed through, nobody cuts their grass. There is no evidence of pride. The children are out all day and half the night. The mothers are all either underweight or overweight, some of them jeered at me as I jogged past the other day.
    I could have ended up living there with my eldest when I left his dad. I would have found it difficult to avoid my neighbours, and stop my son playing with their children.
    It amazes me that they all have brand new furniture, giant flat-screen TV's, the latest clothes. The kids have immaculate bikes and toys, I don't know what kind of poverty this is.
    A poverty of imagination is my guess.

    I moved into my house wit nothing. I lie, I had plenty of optimism, that was all I really needed.

  4. Yes completely the same here - it drives me crazy as we bought our house and these people have been given a house which they take no pride as is you say. We are going to finish the refurb on our house and then put it on the market as fed up of hearing these people screaming at their kids everytime i go out for a walk with my boy, i too do not want my son growing up and getting in with these kids - sounds awful but its true. I just hope when we come to sell our house that this band of children are not roaming when people come to look! S xx

  5. You are such a brilliant writer, Lucy, I love your suggestions for living a free and fulfilling life, too.
    Your point about your middle class friends echoes something I said last night. I used to work in an office which paid well and was generous with holiday entitlements but every time the office manager popped out and left the stationery cupboard open my colleagues would ransack it, stuffing their handbags with sellotape and biros. Their argument was that it was available so why not? Unbelievable.
    I have no solutions but I really don't think setting water canons or locking these people up is a solution to a shattered society. Put them to good use to benefit the community, make them clean up our riot-torn streets, at least they are serving a useful purpose and they may even feel a sense of self-worth from doing something helpful. x

  6. So THAT's why your blog has the title it has! Very 'Sound' comments all. I think Materialism has absolutely blighted our society over the last thirty years or so. But perhaps it didn't just start with Thatcher.

    The awful thought is that something almost indefinable was kick-started with the creation of the NHS (which I mostly but not completely have massive respect for) and universal benefits and has steadily got worse ever since. Something to do with a sense of entitlement, I think.

    Technology has also allowed for the production of ever cheaper material goods and 'We' (Oh Christ, was Dave right when he said 'We are all in it together'?) have simply not had the tools, the education to be able to deal with it all. I think it's something to do with the speed of change.

    We were (largely) all so poor and now we have all this stuff, as you say. We don't know yet how to deal with it all. Maybe one day we will and I think that is where I think you are right to say that is important that each generation has a better life than the previous one.

    I always think of how food has changed our lives as well. I have very distant memories of opening my Great Grandma's fridge (sometime in the early 80s) and being traumatised by the fact that the only thing on the shelves was a Pigs trotter. Sends shivers down my spine even now. But basically we now know the price of everything but the value of nothing as someone else said.

    Although you mention the people in the nice new house (lucky them!), I do think the general poor quality of social housing has much to do with current troubles. There is only so much space in this country and people are jammed in together on soulless concrete estates. Add to that a chronic lack of suitable jobs matched to the skills base (i.e. manufacturing), and you create a hole that is extremely hard to get out of.

    I'm not condoning the morally vacant actions of the rioters at all, but like you am trying to understand why they would do something like this.

    The solution is a long term and politically complicated one I think. Perhaps it's to do pushing education about birth control to the absolute maximum, somehow giving people more physical space to live their lives, and like you say, opening peoples minds to what I call the real world...that of woods and beaches and hills and yes, even views from bridges. A little book called How to be Free by Tom Hodgkinson (editor of The Idler) should be compulsory reading for all sixteen year olds as well.

    Obviously however some of our extreme rioting friends are a little beyond that kind of 'rehabilitation' and I would point you in the direction of Winston Smith's blog (he won the 2010 Orwell Prize, blimey!)as he seems to have very interesting ideas about how to deal with them.

    Er, I think I'm about done, so I'll shut up and go and make a cup of tea!

  7. Jem - quite right, it always is a choice - the recently published names and job titles of some of the looters confirms some people are just void of conscience.

    Vix - again, thank-you so much for your comments, which I'm still brimming with pride over.
    I remember staff stealing black bags from the cleaning store room at the pub. They looked so proud of themselves - "that's saved me a pound, result!!"

    GL - your comment is better than my post - not fair!
    I agree with everything you said (this is getting a habit). The 'entitlement' culture is getting us nowhere.
    I used to be so jealous of people when I had my first son. I lived in a village full of nouveau riche types - spoilt bastards. I wanted new carpets, clothes, and gadgets, deep down it wasn't me - but I did have a 'keeping up with the Joneses' moment.
    The happy medium is an achingly difficult thing to achieve.
    My life is the best it has been, yet I crave more. I want my sons to have a bedroom each. I want my haircut, but can't afford it. I want a new bathroom - but I don't lose sleep over it.
    My parents lived in a caravan when they first got married.
    It had no heating, the bed would be damp with the condensation every morning.
    They've both always worked and saved a little, and now they have a house and a caravan!
    To say they had no help is an understatement, but they got on fine without it.
    We enjoy responsibility, us humans, it's why dogs are so popular as pets. Hand things out to people and the respect isn't there. I must remember this when my son says he needs a new accessory NOW!

  8. Great post and great comments. I think it's great that so many people are discussing this thoughtfully... well apart from the Daily Mail :( I remember teenage friends of mine doing mad stuff - I was too afraid of the consequences to join in with anything major, but giving the two fingers to authority would have been normal. I'm middle class and while I've lived in all sorts of places I really have no idea what it's like to live in a sink estate permanently with no hope of getting out...

  9. A good thought provoking post complemented by excellent comments.


  10. Nice post. Living in Birmingham I got to see the effects of the looting/rioting first hand, and I gotta say, from what I saw it had very little to do with social deprivation and everything to do with opportunism.

    I saw a brief psychological report on the behavior of looters which stated that once people become part of a large crowd or gang, any sense of what is 'normal' takes a back seat and the moral compass seems to go out of true pretty quickly. The 'collective' takes over, and it only takes a shrewd individual to direct the crowd in the direction they want an encounter to go. Remember, it's only a small minority in the crowd that want trouble and seem to 'Gee' the rest up to get what they want.

    You see it all the time with 'innocent/normal' people doing terrible acts in football hooliganism as part of a crowd.

    A younger work colleague pointed out to me that many of the towns and cities involved in the troubles have large 'gang' contingents. He seemed to think that it was as much a 'saving face' exercise amongst that particular contingent, not wanting to be out-done by the next 'baddest' crew. Not sure I wholly agree, but I can see where he's coming from.

    If it was about race or deprivation then why didn't towns such as Bradford, Leeds or Sheffield kick off, indeed, it seems Wales and Scotland were thankfully immune to the excesses of the mob. I'd like to think that these areas maybe have a little more moral fibre and are not so easily led.

    I'm not sure I'd blame the welfare state or the NHS for the shortcomings of a minority, I think wider society has a lot to answer for.

    Many of the papers my wife reads have nice little pull out magazines at the weekend, brim full of so called 'desirable' stuff, usually lauded as 'aspirational' items. For me aspirational just reads acquisitional.
    Is it any wonder that those members of society who are, shall we say, less savvy, fall prey to wanting the bumf marketed at us 24/7.

    Don't even get me started on 'celebrity culture', I think I'd explode.

  11. Great post and you bring up so many things to consider. Living my whole life in America I speak from that perspective. I think things are a bit off in the world right now. Here the gap between the very rich and poor widens and you can feel it and see it in everyday moments, a Ferrari whizzing through the projects, the hungry dirty face of a beggar on the corner as the BMW's drive on by. I think if more people chose to help out a stranger in there own neighborhood it would really make a difference, instead it seems we look to our ever growing government to take care of us.

    As far as material consumerism goes I think every human struggles with that, "I need something right now and I don't know what" it's just how we are wired. Some people use drugs to make that feeling go away and others buy stuff, some are even adrenaline junkies. I have been guilty of all of it!

    Gandhi said it best when he said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." I try and live my life like this, somedays I fail miserably but as long as I keep trying I can live with myself.

  12. Wise words. I agree with your comments about the riots and the problem of 'stuff'. Our society is very concerned about economic growth, but neglects the things that really need to grow: empathy, compassion, duty and respect. We can't change the values of today's rioters, but a carrot and stick approach may steer them into leading more productive lives and becoming better parents to the next generation.

    Too many people lead empty, dull lives in drab, grey suburbs that have too many roads and not enough parks. It must be hard to feel a community spirit when economic activity is put before recreation and beauty. Let's have more trees, more parks and urban farms and fewer billboards and shopping malls.

    I suspect that alongside the chance to nick a few things, people joined in because it was fun. I used to read a lot about gangs and football hooliganism and I was always struck by people's descriptions of the adrenalin rush they got during some 'aggro' - I think it's intoxicating (not that I've ever been tempted).

    As a society, we need to be more assertive about standing up for what we believe in, both individually and collectively.

    Failing that, I'd lace all MacDonalds products with contraceptive drugs ;)

  13. Looking for Blue Sky - you may not have lived in a deprived area, but you certainly have plenty to feel hard done-by about (if you were so inclined). I have friends from all backgrounds, the only common problems seem to stem from addictive personalities - this is a class-wide issue.

    Rattelebox - glad you're 'back' and hope everything is Ok.

    Stensil Head - glad to see you 'back' too. Congratulations on getting a job, hope it's going well?
    You're right about the reasons people join in, I've seen similar behaviour on a smaller scale. A chemist was left unlocked in a local town one night. Even Sandra and Keith, in their 70's and 'pillars of the community' filled their pockets with paracetamol and Johnnies - shockin'!

    Krista - great to have you on board! A friend of mine met a guy online from Portland - he just moved in with her here in Wales. Goodness knows what he makes of our town. At the moment everything is 'great'. Must be the honeymoon period blinding him!

    Steerforth - you surprise me. Never been interested in joining in with a bit of football violence? But you're always banging on about the latest Burberry shirt you've purchased, and referring to your local team as 'we'.
    And fancy calling Mc Donalds MAC Donalds, my parents do that.
    Contraception is a major factor, how many 'unplanned' youths turn into criminals compared to 'planned' treasures; I wonder...

  14. Obviously I've taken part in a lot of aggro over the years - I just said that to throw the 'pigs' off the scent. I hear they're checking social networking sites.

    I thought it might be McDonald's, but they don't deserve a spell-check. Worst of all, their food isn't even fast these days. Whenever I've popped into their establishments after a 'Leo' at the pub (Leo Sayer-all dayer) with old friends, I've had to wait for ages for the food to appear.

    The only real fast food these days is the doner kebab.

  15. A thoughtful post and comments too. I often think about my schooldays (1970s and 1980s) when life seemed simpler, less greedy, less selfish and less obsessed with status, wealth and acquiring objects. That's not to say there wasnt crime but children had more respect based on, what I think, was fear of the consequences of unsociable behaviour. Since those days I have seen less respect for authority, a human rights culture that has displaced responsibility so that everything is about me, me, me. On top of this there is also excessive consumerism, advertising and a celebrity culture that yields pressure on many people but particularly our young people who are fed unrealistic dreams. There is so much more that I can add but what I feel is that society has turned in on itself with many people (including some of our politicians) fighting for their own interests. If anything good can come out of the riots is that it forces us all to take a hard look at our society and the values by which we live by.

  16. Another thoughtful post, I'd expect nothing less. I think the issue here is to separate the initial flare of violence in Tottenham from the subsequent free for all. You know I don't justify any of the destruction, but the more I've read around the subject the more tangled it becomes. Apparently post the shooting of Mark Duggan (no angel or not), there was a march by 2000 black members of the local community. No reports in the main stream media, of course.

    I also grew up in a semi-rural small town, Swansea and Newport of course have their problems - but I think it's hard to imagine until you see it the conditions that young people live in in certain areas. There is no space, personal or otherwise - no headspace, if you like. The Evening Standard did a very well received and shocking series earlier this year on the dispossessed of the capital. Some people never leave their postcode, never take the tube - the cost is too prohibitive. And that's assuming you won't be attacked by a rival gang if you dare to leave your area. Following the ES report there was a massive surge of donations from Londoners, they're generous people despite the stereotype, that's another reason the riot sticks in the throat. To give an example, an intelligent 18 year old was overcome to receive the £18 he needed to send in his UCAS form for higher eduction - it was a previously unreachable goal. You like to think he wouldn't have been one of those rioting. However, you read about the teaching assistant, the 11 year old, the privately educated girl from East Dulwich and you wonder...

    Of course, now we have another problem. Of course we're all shocked and furious and condemn the rioters, but a lot of new and unpleasant nonsense being mooted. Lets make people homeless, that will help! Let's have a new wave of vigilantism, then we'll feel safe! Even the moderate sounding 'these people should use condoms occasionally' is a short step away from 'children are only for the rich'. What a bloody mess.


  17. Deb - thanks for stopping by. Are we in danger of looking back with rose tinted glasses? Weren't the 80's all about excess, greed and consumerism...I only remember admiring my babysitter's clothes and a cracking street party when Fergie got married. I'm right with you on the celebrity culture and advertising, which creeps into every facet of modern life. I saw an excellent documentary about smoking advertising the other week, the effect it has on youngsters is frightening. Thank goodness its been banned here.

    Lakota - really wanted your feedback, cheers for taking the time. You have a variety of perspectives to offer, and I now feel a bit ashamed about some of my more flippant remarks. My OH comes from an uninspiring council estate, his mum, a single mum, had him at 18. Sport and very rigid set of rules at home kept him on the straight and narrow, but I'm sure he could have gone a lot further in life with a more prosperous backdrop to his life, as we all could.

    We recently watched the BBC series 'The Scheme'. I'd want to get wasted every day if I lived on the estate it was filmed on. The helplessness was almost tangible.

  18. Wooah! Proper blog; proper comments. Came here from recommendation by Genius Loci - glad I did.

    Today in my town there was band concert in the park - we live opposite - people took chairs, listened to the brassy tunes as children rode bikes round the paths. Idyllic? Well sort of, but in its way just as representative of peoples lives as the recent conflicts - be they riots, banking crises, political storms... Sometimes we forget that these events are a tiny minority acting in even fewer locations - most people lives are not like that, society as whole isn't as teh media would have it represented. The point here is not diminish what has happened, and I'm sure those close to events would have a different perspective (but then they would wouldn't they) - rather it is to reflect a moment and regain some perspective. Most of us struggle along with decent values, hopeful aspirations and a pretty clear sense of right and wrong - we sail close to the wind as teenagers perhaps, but come to adulthood with enough experience, common sense and respect to reject feral behaviour. This is true of people in virtually all social groups, not just the comfortable middle classes of which I am unashamedly one. I'm blabbering now, but the point remains; the vast majority of us and our communities will go on, as we did before - not perfect, but a long way from breakdown.

  19. Mark - Hi - I've 'seen' you over at Genius Loci - noticed you're a fellow Welshman /outdoors lover.
    The chain of thought prompted by the riots, for me, was all about MY attitudes.
    The culture of blaming fellow human beings for all that's wrong in the world, and patting ourselves on the back for all that's RIGHT in the world isn't very productive.
    I realise now just how guilty I was of doing these things. maybe what I have gleaned is that, sadly, we are all the same. I find it equally depressing and comforting!
    Thanks for following, look forward to 'seeing' more of you...


Sorry I am having to filter comments at the moment