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Cooking Up A Riot

(This started as a food post, where I was going to share my recipes from the dinner I cooked for friends over the evening of the London riots and the evening after where we stayed in doors for fear of one. It became something else and I thought I would post it anyway)

I arrived back from Dubai on Monday evening extremely tired and happy to be home. I wandered slowly through the streets of Dalston, jetlag dragging on my limbs like deep pools of treacle, noting quickly the intense sirens and many helicopters. A quick browse of twitter and I discovered that London was up in arms and there were riots happening and brewing.

Living in East London, a lot of it was happening on my doorstep, although, thankfully not actually so. We could hear everything and stayed vigilant but as we live in a residential area with no shops or restaurants to loot, they didn’t trouble us. I followed poor Uyen’s trauma over twitter, hoping she would be ok with a car on fire outside her flat in Hackney. Thankfully they moved on and she was fine.

Turkish Community Protecting Dalston (Photo originally from twitter user @yassin

Remarkably, the local Turkish community defended their property and the rest of us, driving out the rioters. The Bangladeshi community in Brick Lane did the same and the Greek community in North London – do watch this great video on the Guardian.

I read many heartbreaking tweets from friends. One told of how in her local Hackney shop, she watched an elderly shopkeeper as he was told by two youths that they would burn down his shop that night. With tears in his eyes he graciously served them. I do hope his shop survived. Another friend tweeted of the fireman he found weeping in a nearby park.

Elsewhere, restaurants were vandalised and invaded with a mass mugging by looters at London favorite The Ledbury. Rioters took jewellery, wallets and mobile phones from diners before being chased out by chefs brandishing knives. I read first about it when a chef, Harry Wilkinson, whose parents were dining there told him and he tweeted it, then when one of the chefs, Isaac McHale, confirmed it on twitter himself. Touchingly, many regular customers turned up the next day offering to clean up. The Ledbury refused to close the next day too, bravely opening their doors to the public.

Most shops and restaurants closed but some, resilient, stayed open. I suspected things might stay calm yesterday but just in case, stocked up. Instead of riots, the reality yesterday in Dalston was that it was a gentle, calm and sunny evening, and there were no riots at all. No doubt due to the increased police presence all over London, and I think the riot frenzy had hit a climax the night before. I don’t envy their job, what a tough week they have had.

#riotcleanup in Clapham Junction - organised over twitter - photo from twitter user @lawcol888

#riotcleanup in Clapham Junction - organised over twitter - photo from twitter user @lawcol888

Frustratingly, clumsy mainstream media reporting decided to blame twitter and blackberry messaging for the rioting. Ridiculous to say the least, for me it was a sane and reliable source of information on the situation (this of course does depend on who you follow but most journalists are on there and were reporting from the scene). It is also where the heavily attended and extremely efficient #riotcleanup was, and continues to be, organised from. Celebrities like the Kaiser Chiefs got involved, and tweeted as they swept.

I saw someone tweet that blaming twitter for riots is liking blaming typewriters for death threats. Hear hear! It was nonsensical to do so.

Bigger issues were at play – where was our political leadership and why were the police so unable to cope until David Cameron finally returned from holiday and increased the numbers on the streets? Why are we even considering cutting their numbers?

I know we’re not out of the woods yet, but hope this is it for now. These riots are indicative of deep social problems that need to be understood and addressed. I am not defending the violence of the riots – that was wrong and criminal and cannibalistic to devour their own communities. That is the issue though, they don’t feel like they are their communities. The political leadership has disappointed so far, but can we please look into this? Otherwise, next time will be only worse. An inclusive, less elitist society should prevent it.

I will leave you on a nice note. London does pull together and most people are good. Just look at this riot shield tea tray, with tea from some good folks in Camden for the tired police in a calm instant mid-riot.

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I like food. I like to make food. Eat food. Photograph food. Write about food. Mainly in London but when I am lucky or organised further afield.

21 Comments

  1. what an excellent round up – and really gutted that you’re only temporarily going to be my neighbour! Loving the tea tray

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  2. It was interesting to read your very personal and touching post rather than the super dramatic reports in the paper and on the news. The guardian video made me shudder but also feel proud of the men defending their livelihoods when the police didn’t. I love your food writing by this was great too.

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  3. I couldn’t agree more- the response by communities is London (and today, elsewhere all round the country) to cleaning up the streets and looking out for one another following the mindless violence was such an inspiring breath of fresh air following the thuggery of the previous nights.

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  4. It’s reassuring to see that there is a spirit in London that is willing to pull together. Not always easy to find, but, it is there ! Although I am sure you and I have different views to the solution, one thing is for sure, collective violence and lawlessness of this magnitude should never ever be excused in a society such as ours.

    On the political leadership front, I’m very disappointed that no one seemed to be able to make a decision or decent statement from any post (or party). Surely we are not just a business hours country and when people are on holiday, someone has to be able to take decisions and stand up in their absence.

    Great piece and I look forward to commentators publicising their solutions rather than playing the blame game. ……solutions not excuses.

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  5. My best thoughts are you with you & your neighbors & neighborhood. What a great, thoughtful post, putting perspective on such a complex, fraught, and political situation. Stay strong & stay together, London!

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  7. Great post. Beyond the horrendousness of it all, I’ve felt incredibly sad to see a city I love living in being torn apart by people who believe they have no stake in it, don’t believe they feel they have any affinity to any community.

    I think a lot of people confuse trying to understand the reasons behind this for justifications of this unjustifiable behaviour. I hope at the very least we can try and understand what has gone so wrong in our society in order to move forward.

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  8. Thank you for your view on this! I am impressed as always at how calmly London copes with trying situations. You would not know what has been going on in the city to look at people going about with their day to day lives. London just doesn’t stop, not for terrorists, not for idiots such as we have seen on our streets these past few nights. Here, the shops pulled down their shutters but kept their doors open and traded normal hours (by and large). We pulled anything that could be ignited or used as missiles off the street and otherwise just carried on as normal. The city was a bit muted yesterday and today but mostly people just get on with life. No dramatics.

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  9. Good stuff. I was truly dismayed at what went on the last few days but as you say, it’s also heartening to see that there are more kind, sane, honest, good and caring people than hooligans in our city. The mainstream media reporting was pretty clunky and although there was some rumour tweeting going on, Twitter proved to be generally a great source of information from the people to whom all this was actually happening. This city’s resilience amazes me but at the same time I hope some change comes out of this. We need to take a long hard look at the root causes of the riots or risk a replay of this week’s events.

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  10. Thanks for including my post in this. Lets make a change somehow. Our eyes are opened now, lets not shut them again. A good cup of tea and a good feed is what we all need, including those who took part, and go from there. x

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