Category Archives: Riots and/or Civil Unrest

London Police Come Out Again

An English summer brings to mind sandwiches and cold drinks, barbeques in the back garden, leisurely days by the seaside or amidst the green and rolling countryside. And we mustn’t forget the bright pink skin from too much sun on too pale skin. Instead, the summer of 2011 is going to be remembered, particularly in London, for being the year of the riots and for being cold and wet and distinctly un-summer-like.

Emerging from our semi-housebound state (work commitments have kept us tucked up inside), we relished the opportunity to get out into the sunshine with cotton clothing on instead of the cashmere cardigans that have been our friends for months. So on this bright and sunny Saturday, we ventured a few train stops away to go to the markets at Spitalfields and Brick Lane.


Liverpool Street Station exterior on a bright and sunny day.


The sight of London’s police force out in great numbers was a bit jarring as we emerged from the Liverpool Street Station and heard the shouting crowds in the distance. Whole streets were closed off to pedestrians and vehicles alike and we could see — no exaggeration — hundreds of uniformed officers in every direction. According to the late coverage in The Guardian, “EDL London march halted by police”, approximately 3,000 members of the police were in attendance at several key locations in the East End.


Barricaded streets in London during EDL march on Saturday, 3 September 2011.


And the reason for all of this police presence? The EDL — English Defence League, a white supremacy group, was marching in force in the East End and we could certainly hear the roaring and chanting both for and against these people. I lingered long enough to take a few pictures, but we thought it best to keep moving in case the situation degenerated into the kinds of violence that we all lived through in early August.


Strong police presence to deter violence at EDL march on Saturday, 3 September 2011.


Police in London waiting calmly as EDL white supremacy group marches through East London.


There was a calm sense of purpose on the faces of those uniformed men and women — orderly and matter of fact. It’s an odd thing to comment on, but London has been rather turbulent lately so it is comforting to think that there are enough law enforcement folks nearby to keep any potential violence in check.


London policeman quietly watching the streets and people.


Tomorrow will be a pleasant change of pace — a story about the colourful areas of Spitalfields and Brick Lane and I’ll have photos galore to show you that vibrant and fun part of London.

Come back soon!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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A Sigh Of Relief

The air was soft with rain — the garden extra green. It felt as if the city of London had taken a collective deep breath — and then exhaled with relief.

Soft London Morning After Rain

Things are not settled by any stretch of the imagination and the dialogue about how these riots and violence could have happened this past week, what factors contributed to it in the preceding years, and what solutions must be embraced are well under way. There is a sense of hope that last week’s startling wake-up call will be enough and a state of social order and civility toward one another can return.

But for now, I can gratefully report that things are quiet, life has returned to the busy-purposeful London state that is oh-so-normal, and I saw smiles on the faces of people as we walked through the city today. Such an ordinary and taken-for-granted thing — a smile — and yet so appreciated after the tension of the last week. Let’s hope those smiles stay firmly planted on the faces of the people of London.

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Violence and Vandalism Continue Throughout England

We had hoped for a peaceful night in North London and yes, it was quieter than the previous night of chaos. But just as we were going to sleep after midnight, we heard loud booms — explosions — and then a wave of sirens.

Checking the online news this morning, I discovered that what we had heard was the local council depot being broken into and the fuel tanks on site that are meant to fuel the council’s trucks were set alight. The sound of those exploding fuel tanks echoed throughout the area and sent a plume of black smoke into the air.

London may have had fewer episodes of violence and vandalism in contrast to the previous nights and yes, the introduction of an extra 10,000 police personnel made an obvious difference. But people are exhausted, edgy, frightened, and uncertain about where the next random event will pop up. This is no way to live and it is taking an obvious toll.

The unfortunate result of sending police from outside of London into the capital meant that those areas who sent the police were left with inadequate police protection for their own communities. And didn’t the mobs of looters and vandals seize that opportunity! Cities like Manchester, Salford, Gloucestershire, and Birmingham were set ablaze and looted as the violence spread outside of London.

The morning news coverage is filled with a discussion of how broken the society is here in Great Britain, that the values and standards of days gone by have vanished, that people taking responsibility for their lives and their actions has been wiped away by decades of people feeling that they were ‘entitled’ and that their ‘human rights’ were more important than the good of society as a whole. This is an astonishing potential turnaround for me to personally witness. I have been dismayed since returning to Great Britain about how very different it is now to the generally law abiding place that I lived in during the 1990s.

This is a healthy dialogue amongst ordinary, law-abiding citizens that is long overdue and the heads of government seem to be finally listening to how completely fed up the people are by the lawlessness and lack of common respect for one another that they are witnessing on a daily basis. But balanced with that anger about the rampant criminal behaviour is a thread of understanding that many young people in current society feel that they have nothing to lose by acting like mini-gangsters since they are essentially uneducated and unemployable and the government has made such severe cuts to educational grants for low income students, job creation programs, and even local neighbourhood clubs for the underprivileged that there was bound to be a backlash at some point.

No one is condoning the violence — no one. Far too many homes and businesses have been lost for people to feel that immediate forgiveness or accepting excuses for thuggish behaviour is appropriate. The government revealed this morning that they may have to resort to using water cannons and plastic bullets to regain control of the mobs. And there are an increasing number of angry citizens who feel that ‘citizen action’ in the form of vigilantism is a controversial but potential solution. The police have warned against this approach on the morning news. Balance is required and none of these solutions will be easy or fast.

It certainly is an interesting time to have returned to Great Britain. I am watchful and hopeful that this vibrant and resilient country can find a middle ground that solves at least some of the dilemmas that have surfaced this week.

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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London Is Holding Its Collective Breath

London is holding its collective breath right now and hoping for the best. It’s quieter here on the streets of Hackney bordering Stoke Newington tonight. According to the Guardian journalist who is blogging online live, the swathe of roads near here is being manned by forces from the Manchester Metropolitan Police complete with their large vans. The relative silence means that nothing feels as sinister as it did last night.

Thank heavens! Perhaps we’ll actually get a full night’s sleep for the first time in several days. Perhaps everyone will. That would be quite splendid. And may this sense of peace spread to every affected neighbourhood in London. Everyone has been on edge for days now and those levels of stress can be devastating to health and well-being.

It was reassuring to hear the Prime Minister say this afternoon that the number of police on the street would be increased from last night’s number of 6,000 to 16,000. I felt such sympathy for the police personnel on the ground last night when the sheer number of rampaging looters had them outnumbered many-fold. It was a perfectly dreadful spectacle to see the rioters actually chasing the police up the street with bricks, bats, bottles, and knives. Shocking stuff!

Things were even worse last night than the previous one and we wondered if we were going to have to just dash out of the house if the mobs came up the road and attacked the houses or cars on our street with fire-bombs and petrol. The live coverage on the BBC was not reassuring as we watched building after building all throughout the city being set alight by the mobs. And on this very street, waves of young men wearing hoodies rode by on their bicycles whilst talking into mobile phones. A mere few blocks from here, young men who looked and dressed just the same were seen on television lobbing bricks and bottles at the handful of riot police who were forced to retreat up the street due to the sheer numbers of their attackers.

We both walked around today like zombies from fatigue. We had to get up again and again to check on what the noises were outside. The sirens were racing by at the end of the street and the BBC and police helicopter were RIGHT over our block for hours.

Some of the merchants in our area finally decided that enough was enough and dozens of merchants down near the Hackney mall formed an impromptu group and chased the mobs of mainly young people in their teens and twenties down the street — but that civilian action didn’t unfold until after 10 PM last night and rather a lot of damage had been done by then. Some of their small shops may never recover from the theft and damage and I rather doubt that all of the affected shop owners, homeowners, and renters who have been impacted by this violence will have adequate insurance coverage to begin to get back on their feet. It’s a mind-boggling dilemma to witness young people acting out to such an extent that they may have destroyed their own community’s ability to start afresh.

Hopefully I will be able to move back to lifestyle and travel news rather soon. But the events of the last few days are serious issues that affect lives, incomes, well being, safety, health, and the morale of a country. I would dearly love to see Britain regain a firm foothold rather quickly.

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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London In A Time Of Unrest

Nostalgia for the peace and serenity (and occasional boredom!) of France or Norfolk here in the UK swept over us this morning and we awakened less than refreshed after a second night of wailing sirens and helicopters pounding away overhead.

London — parts of it anyway — are in chaos right now and this is a less than pleasant situation to find ourselves living in. For the last two nights, violence has erupted as soon as darkness descended and our part of North London has been marred by this set of angry outbursts.

The BBC mid-day news has just termed this “copycat criminal behaviour” since it is now apparent that the violence and looting last night had nothing whatsoever to do with the original riot in Tottenham on Saturday — a riot that escalated after a peaceful protest about the shooting death of a young man by local police. An article in today’s Telegraph notes that some of this criminal activity is being orchestrated through the use of Blackberry Messaging, Twitter, and Facebook.

We’re currently working on a renovation project in North London and an essential tool was missing a part — so my husband Mark decided that it was a good opportunity to purchase a new cordless drill. He ordered it online on Sunday and received the confirmation by email that it could be picked up at a nearby Argos store on Monday morning.

I had warned Mark this morning that Dalston was one of the neighbourhoods that had been attacked last night, but he was still quite surprised to cycle over to the Argos store and find it closed up tight with pieces of metal siding screwed over all of the windows. Several other shops showed similar damage and were boarded up and silent.

Mark cycled home, looked up another Argos shop online, and set off again in the opposite direction on his bike. He was back in half an hour and was spitting angry this time. Not only had the second Argos store been looted, but all of the other stores in the shopping center had been raided also.

I barely slept last night. The police were on our street twice with their lights on after several groups of young men went up and down the street beating on the skips in front of various construction projects and banging the sides of the cars along the street. I was quite nervous that they would set the scraps of building materials in those skips alight as we had seen on the news in other parts of the city — or they would vandalise the cars including ours. A helicopter circled endlessly overhead for hour after hour as I sat tensely at the front window, watching the activity in the street below.

There are too many valid social ills in any contemporary society to list or examine in depth in the pages of this travel and lifestyle journal. But the kind of senseless theft that we are seeing has nothing to do with protests about social issues. I am quite concerned that a percentage of the homeowners, business owners, and renters are either uninsured or under-insured due to the economic downturn. So how are those innocent victims of this violence meant to reconstruct their lives?

Our slight inconvenience at having to source a power tool from another location is an pitifully insignificant issue when you examine the bigger picture and the lives that are being directly impacted by social unrest and violence.

Hopefully my next post will be about something pleasant and cheerful — but given the state of things — we shall see!

Betwixt and Between

Have been away from the computer for most of the last three weeks as we departed France, sailed from Normandy to Portsmouth, journeyed up to Norfolk, spent 10 days there, and then came down to London last week.

We’ll be in London for the entire month of August and perhaps part of September. We’re living in the home of an actor-writer that I shall not name for security reasons. He and his family are away for the month while we do renovation and construction for them. I’m doing the decorating/design work and Mark is doing the building.

We had some edgy moments last night when the air was filled with the sounds of helicopters and the wailing of sirens from police cars, ambulances, and multiple fire trucks. The riots and fires that broke out in Tottenham are not far from the neighbourhood in North London where we are currently living. And yes, it was nerve-wracking to listen to that set of sounds and then see the destruction that had been wrought this morning when we we tuned in to the BBC news. It is after two o’clock in the afternoon and there are still helicopters flying over in waves.

Have altered our plans for the day, are staying in on this edgy Sunday and working on the house, and have decided that we’ll take a day off mid-week in the London museums.

There are still more stories and pictures from Germany and France that have not gone online! So watch for those in the days and weeks ahead and I’ll sprinkle the new items from London in between.

Bye for now!