I am so sad. I know that sounds trite but the events in what I still consider to be my home city are just so appalling, it is hard to be anything but sad. I spent yesterday evening manning a one-woman Prague-based news station – streaming BBC news via VPN, refreshing my twitter stream, checking Facebook. It’s amazing how much news you can receive when you want to– even when it’s news you’d rather not hear.
I also spent several hours talking to friends and family back home – some of whom were concerned how their husbands or flatmates would be getting home, who could hear police sirens or, more worryingly, the noise of rioters from the ‘safety’ of their homes.
As I headed to bed, I heard news of trouble in Clapham Junction. This is where I lived for just under four years, where several friends still do live and where my sister has a flat. I woke to the news of violence along the Northcote Road and a fire at the Debenhams store. If you know London, you will know that until last night the concept of riots on Northcote Road was inconceivable.
And whilst most people told me that I was lucky to be where I am (and know that really, I am) last night, for the first time in months, I actually felt homesick. I feel somehow guilty for leaving my lovely city to carry on without me. Friends are talking about going to help clean up the streets today, and I feel bad that I can’t. It seems that you can take the girl out of London but…you know the rest.
You do funny things when you are an expat. You miss strange things as well – including, apparently, a city full of looting thugs. For instance – yesterday I was the happy recipient of a large consignment of DVDs. These included Notting Hill, Four Weddings, and Love Actually. I am also the proud owner of Bridget Jones’s Diary (1 and 2) and the Vicar of Dibley box set (don’t judge me). Do you notice a theme? It appears that I am paying for Richard Curtis’ holiday this year.
I had Notting Hill running in the background of my breaking-news extravaganza last night. I always knew the Richard Curtis offered a very rose-tinted view of British life and London living – this week’s events show quite starkly that London is not full of bumbling Hugh Grant types wearing loafers and running independent book shops, sleeping easy without a fear of looting. It is not full of happy smiling people exchanging pleasantries. The streets are not lined with red phone boxes (apart from those whose phones have been ripped out by gangs of bored teenagers). Bobbies on the beat now come dressed in riot gear. Richard Curtis it seems, writes fiction in more ways than one.
All the same, it is a comforting fiction. In the same way that mothers love their ugly children, I remain convinced that London is the most wonderful, vibrant city in the world – a very, very hard thing to believe today. London must heal itself and not be torn apart by these mindless teenage thugs – however angry, displaced and undiciplined they are.
Politicians and social commentators will now try to address the roots of the current unrest in London and try to “solve” the problems of these reckless, selfish little criminals. For the rest of you I prescribe two hours of Richard Curtis. Trust me, it offers a soothing background by which to watch this dreadful news.