This post was published in the Huffington Post UK on 9th August 2011
Today I’m lost for words. I awoke this morning, and what I thought would have been a casual check of my overnight facebook updates turned out to be much, much worse.
From the relative safety of half a world away, I’m still watching the drama unfold from my living room in Melbourne. I’m glued. I cant take myself away from the wanton criminal damage, across places I know and love. I, like most of us, am checking through any means possible to make sure loved ones are safe. Friends are locked inside houses, looters rushing past, cars being smashed. Old haunts being burned down. This is something I thought I would never see. I always felt safer in most parts of London, amongst the ebb and flow of people.
This is devastating to see, because whilst I may now live in Australia, I lost my heart to London.
I lived in the city from 2004 until 2010. My formative twenties where I learnt to experience, to think and to know. Some go to India to find themselves. I went to London. I arrived as a know it all, opinionated, excited but arrogant 24 year old, full of life, and of myself, ready to throw all of it at the city. Yet London is the urban equivalent of Mount Everest. Try to conquer it, and at best it challenges and condescends you. At worst, it chews you up and spits you out onto the pavement, to be stepped on by passers by. It is scornful, and forces your hand to look more critically at yourself, learn, recompose, and try again.
There are much bigger cities in the world with greater populations, but London remains the unconquerable queen, least of all by a doe eyed girl from the colonies. It is the original Iron Lady, and commands a great deal of respect. Through both raging success and bitter experience it teaches you to find who you really are, else be swept aside with the detritus.
I arrived in London, expecting to spend perhaps a year in the city then move on to other European centres. Six more later I was still there. Occasionally a whirlwind of slow pubs, fast clubs and empty wallets, there then came the point where time stood still. The London Bombings in 2005. Therein followed a display by the people of strength, stoicism and pragmatism never to be forgotten. A people, who, in every sense of the word, would not be moved. Who refused to live in fear or to change they way they lived. Londoners transformed themselves. The usual facade of indifference and ire fell away to a need to help each other, to listen, to rebuild, to care. It was omnipresent. Even then, in those dark days, London was not defeated. We were not defeated. It was the tipping point, in those bewildering moments after the bombs which morphed me out of London’s cultural shadows and into a complete and warm embrace of her. She became my identity, and I began to consider myself a Londoner.
In time the usual facade of indifference and apathy would return to London’s face. Underneath it all, however, life was forever changed. Not by the abhorrent actions of a few, but by the way the many turned to each other in strength and solace, to rebuild each other brick by brick. Being part of that, it has never left me. My relationship with London has always been love-hate; there are things I love and things I hate with equal measure. No other city has inspired such a height of fervour and range of emotions. I live elsewhere now, in the beautiful city of Melbourne, but I will hold London always like it were my first love.
To see what is happening now, the actions of a violent mob with little cohesive aim defies belief. This is serious and frightening. How this was able to take hold, and how the authorities bring order and calm is anyone’s call at this stage. It will take time for the blame to fall to earth, and no doubt it will. Recriminations will abound, and heads will roll. However, it does not defy the reality that the vast mass of Londoners have etched out for themselves. London is resolute, stoic and pragmatic, and has already proven she is bigger than anything that can happen to her. I have no doubt she will recover. But it might take time. And an awful lot of bricks and mortar.