Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Ashes to ashes

Mrs Angry's trip to Brighton

Yesterday was a good day to get out of London, so Mrs Angry, Miss Angry and two of her friends went to Brighton, waving goodbye to the mean streets of Broken Barnet, and passing swiftly through war torn Clapham and Croydon out into the fresh clean air of Sussex. Ah: the British seaside: nothing like it, is there?

Brighton was sunny, and happy, and full of love: all kinds of love - goodness me, you should have seen what Barbie and another Barbie were up to in the window of a women only sexshop, whilst in the corner Ken and Ken entertained themselves in an entirely different manner. Mrs Angry was obliged to haul three giggling teenage girls away from the spectacle, whilst thinking primly that Sindy, the companion of her own younger years, would never have have behaved like that in a public forum. Her Sindy was quite happy left to her own devices, waiting for years for the Paul who never turned up, and spurning the advances of Mrs Angry's cousin's parachuting Action Man, who sadly then fell to his death from the bathroom window, in an unexplained accident. Broken heart, you know. (Or, perhaps like the curious Mrs Angry, he had looked inside his trousers and realised he was not all he cracked up to be, after all.)

See: I was going to write a serious post about the riots, and as usual I have been distracted by pointless trivia. Anyway.

In the afternoon, Miss Angry and friends cleared off, thankfully, and left Mrs Angry to her own devices, no Paul, no Action Man, dear dear, but in peace, in a deckchair, on the beach. She sat musing on life, and counting tattoes (no, not hers, although she may get one for her birthday in a couple of weeks: any suggestions?) as the hurdy gurdy played yes, we have no bananas, I've got a luvverly bunch of coconuts, and, for some reason, the theme tune from Match of the Day.

Sat next to her was a family from Liverpool: Mum, Dad, teenage boy, younger sister and sweet little baby sister. They positioned themselves gingerly on the pebbles and then looked bemused. The boy was sulking because he had nothing to do: no xbox, Nothing to Do: I'm Bored ... they all sat and watched the sweet little baby sister as she stumbled about, picking up large pebbles and throwing them at sunbathers. No one spoke to each other.

After about an hour of this, they were about to leave when two women with bright smiles and clipboards came up to them, saying they were researchers from Channel Four, and that they were trying to find people willing to be interviewed about their experiences of love and romance. The family shook their heads slowly, as if they'd never heard of it. Mrs Angry tried not to laugh. For some reason, the researchers passed her deckchair without stopping. It might have been the aura of urban cynicism, or the smell of a burning metropolis clinging to her Boden sundress. (Sindy, not Barbie, you see: although maybe Barbie has more fun, Mrs Angry is beginning to realise ...)

As we travelled home by train through South London, the reminder of the last few days and nights' disturbances began to loom in the sky above, quite literally: a police helicopter hovered low over Croydon, and another over Clapham, where in one or two streets crowds could clearly be seen to be forming too. At Victoria there was a heavy police presence. On the tube, all passengers sat quietly, nervously, and read the tales of rioting and looting in their copies of Metro: the front cover photo reminiscent of pictures from the Blitz, seventy years ago. Walking back from the station, we stopped in horror, as in the not too far distance, the sky was full of apocalyptic black plumes of smoke, billowing up from somewhere near the North Circular. The man who runs the corner shop had left his customers to stand and watch. He shrugged when Mrs Angry asked what the fire was: 'Looters: maybe the retail park? This is how things are now, you know?'

Is it? Why? Everyone has an opinion about this now, of course. I'm not sure it is possible to understand the reasons yet, but maybe thinking about it very hard and urgently is not such a bad thing.

Maybe let's start by thinking about events close at home, here in Broken Barnet.

On Sunday, as we have reported, in this part of Finchley, the late night air was filled with the perpetual sound of sirens as the emergency services rushed up the North Circular to Enfield, Wood Green, and other trouble spots.

On Monday night, much of the borough was in a state of fear and apprehension, due to rumours of trouble in paradise:yes, riots planned for various locations right here in Broken Barnet. Shops shut early, people were sent home from work: up in Chipping Barnet, the high street was in lockdown, we heard, attended by vanloads of riot police.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man: the spiritual father of Broken Barnet, Councillor and AM, Brian Coleman, FRSA, materialised in human form, and stood radiantly, as if in a beatific vision, by the church, speaking to the police - who no doubt received his timely advice with grateful submission. Earlier that day, Brian had had words too for our boys and girls in the fire service.

A report in the local Times had described the vile, mindless actions of idiotic yobs in Edmonton who had threatened the crew of a fire engine, and rentagob Coleman was quoted, unsurprisingly, condemning this appalling behaviour.

'Chairman of the London Fire Authority, Councillor Brian Coleman, said: “Once again London’s firefighters displayed absolute professionalism in the way they dealt with these incidents.

“It is absolutely outrageous though that our fire engines came under attack and had to be taken off the road, making them unavailable for emergencies.'

Well, it is good to see that Brian has remembered that our firefighters are absolute professionals. You might recall that some of his remarks during the recent fire dispute were less than complimentary about them. In an interview with the Ham & High, he described union members, many of whom who have been putting their lives at risk on our behalf this week, as 'thugs and bullies', and commented:

"Most of the union officials, if they had half a brain cell, they'd be dangerous. Most of them are thick, can't string a sentence together and frankly are incoherent. We have to break the FBU frankly..."

His reference to 'our' fire engines is interesting, as of course they are not 'our' fire engines at all, are they, Brian, as they now belong to your helpful mates Assetco, the ones who take you out for lunch, and send you hampers at Christmas. Oh, and Assetco is at risk of collapsing at any moment, and if it does, we riot torn Londoners will not have access to 'our' fire engines at all.

As for taking engines off the road and making them unavailable, can anyone remember the number of engines which were retained by Assetco after the dispute, for some reason? What would have happened if the London riots or some other emergency had happened then?

And the police: hmm, let us go back to November, last year, when a certain GLA member, yes you, Brian, rather rudely addressed the then Met Chief Sir Paul Stephenson at City Hall with this idiotic question about Barnet's borough commander, Neil Basu:

“ What would the commissioner say to borough commanders who are rushing round their boroughs spreading doom and gloom.

“Not least the borough commander of Barnet who did it again on Monday night in front of a meeting of Barnet cabinet, saying that he's got to reallocate his resources that will inevitably mean cuts in Safer Neighbourhood, doesn't rule out extraction.

“Sadly he's going back to the language of ten years ago talking about deprivation, poverty and crime figures, which is all very well, but the result of that was that policing disappeared from nice middle class wards across great areas of the suburbs and many areas of outer London lost confidence in the Met because they did not see any police resources.

Ah, yes: nice middle class wards. Like Chipping Barnet, or Totteridge, Brian's own parish, (where really there is no need of policing, because MetPro/Evolution Emergency Response is on 24 hour alert ...) Chipping Barnet, which we heard last week has been given a £400k handout, through the blessed intercession of Brian, from the Mayor, for no good reason whatsoever, other than to encourage the dangerously disaffected middle class voters of Barnet to return home to the Tories in 2012.

Brian Coleman might like to reflect on the fact that thanks to the budget cuts, half the police Safer Neighbourhood Teams in this borough are going to lose vitally needed members of staff: the sergeants, who are of course the most experienced members of their teams. Does that matter? Well, it might not matter much in the nicer more middle class wards, but in the more challenging areas, yes, it bloody well matters. Even here in West Finchley ward, for example, where Brian and Mrs Angry both live, (not together, happily) a notorious local gang which was causing so much trouble in the last year or so, and would perhaps have been a problem over the last few days, has been effectively dealt with by local policing. One local officer who has dealt with this issue will lose his post, although, ha: guess where he is being redeployed? Yes: the riot squad. Couldn't make it up, couldya?

Here in Broken Barnet, as we have often discussed, there is a wide diversity of degrees of affluence, and a virtual system of apartheid which keeps the two extremes of the social scale apart. The two extremes neither understand nor want to understand the other.

The Tory administration which runs the borough is more concerned with the reckless urgency of throwing their responsibilities into the laps of their big company friends in the private sector: they don't give a flying f*ck about the effect on the less advantaged residents in this borough. And it's no surprise that some of the less advantaged residents in this borough don't give a flying f*ck about them, and the rules that say other people can have what they want in this life without earning it, but those at the bottom of the scale must do without, without complaint.

Nothing excuses the sort of mindless rioting and theft we have seen this week. But those of us who condemn it so easily might like to think why we have produced so many young people who think it is acceptable to behave in this way. It's our fault, as parents. Why have they grown up thinking that the theft of things, consumer goods, electrical goods, designer footwear, is justifiable, or even desirable? What happened to instilling more important values in the minds of your children, and teaching them to consider the wellbeing of others, which might require them to behave themselves?

But it is also a wider political problem: it's because in the decades since the last Tory government, and throughout the years of a blue Labour government, success in our society is only measured by material status, or celebrity status, by how you look, and how much you own.

Think of the boy on the beach yesterday, completely lost without his x box, unable to interact with his own family, or do anything real and active. His parents, with nothing to say. At the same time, people in their circumstances are expected to be honest and live within their means, and behave, whilst reading about fat cat executives messing up the economy but expecting to be paid for doing nothing, or worse than nothing.

Margaret Thatcher famously said there was no such thing as society, as she hacked away at the foundations of the industrial base that was the economic stability of the very thing she denied: Cameron uses the excuse of a Big Society dream as a cover for economic warfare of another sort, removing the vital funding which supports youth schemes, and other community based social enterprises, which have until recently helped to minimise the effect of deprivation in our less advantaged areas.

Like we used to say, naughtily as children, on Ash Wednesday, at the beginning of Lent: ashes to ashes, dust unto dust: if God doesn't want me, the devil must. Somehow we have created the perfect environment for the inflammatory social conditions we are seeing this week, and here in Broken Barnet, as in the nation as a whole, since we have let personal greed and the profits of big business come before the needs of ordinary people, we are now just going to have to stand back and watch it all catch fire.

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