345. 7pm. Top deck, halfway down on the left.
One year ago exactly, my boyfriend and I took this route home from a wealthy friend’s house in South Kensington. The riots for which our city was briefly notorious had just happened, and news anchors had busied themselves all day chatting about ‘the lost youth’, ‘race relations’, ‘the unseasonal heat’ and ‘the Eighties’ – all without bothering to actually talk to the young people of London, of course. As we sat on the 345, separated by a window from the rain-splattered world outside, we passed through Clapham and then Peckham, two of the areas worst affected by looting. It was as if we were on a sort of bus tour through ‘Rioting London’, observing everything from a great height and zooming through as quickly as possible. I had lived in London for quite a few years by then, but I had never felt so much like a tourist – or worse, like someone watching a documentary about London on a television in another country. I felt at a distance. And I know I wasn’t the only one.
How can the majority of us have felt so little in the wake of such a grave and sudden attack on our home?
In many ways, we who live in this city live in distinct little communities within it, and it is easy to forget that we are part of a bigger whole. I live in London; so does the young man who threw the first brick at a FootLocker; so does the middle-aged woman who strolled into a violated TKMaxx and helped herself to some summer tops; so does the independent shopkeeper who fought back to guard his livelihood; so does David Cameron; so did Mark Duggan. But how far are they the same London?
It’s really up to us. Please, get talking, to your neighbour on your street, to your neighbour on the bus. Something needs to hold us together after the Olympics have rolled on out of town.