Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Week 2: I get a bit older but have nothing of note to say on the subject

I promised last week that I wouldn’t always be so serious, but clearly Britain’s youths are early adopters of Peak of the Week. Evidently, they read that blog entry and decided to take me down like a three-legged baby gazelle in the Serengeti, convening to formulate a plan that would scupper my intentions of hilarity. It’s certainly working: these riots are making it almost impossible for me to be my usual egocentric self.

My original intention was to write about aging, for it is that what I have done: since you last heard from me, I’ve left my Hamlet phase and moved one step closer to death, turning 34 last Thursday. Thirty four. They say that women hate getting older, that birthdays make them miserable, that their biological clocks are screaming, that they panic about their lost youth, so I thought I’d have lots to say about my latest annual shift, or at least a few witty paragraphs to elicit knowing smiles and complimentary comments. However, I’ve been 34 for several days now, and my feelings on the subject are uncharacteristically brief: Not Bothered. The truth is, I’ve only become happier as I’ve got older, I’m not that fussed about babies and I certainly look a lot better than I did a few years back. Plus, I had two brilliant nights out to celebrate. At this rate, I’ll be the smuggest person on the planet by the time I hit forty.

So – no conflict there. No stories of early onset incontinence or crows’ feet. No yearning for the distinctly unheady days of my yore. No complaints at all, just one solitary white pubic hair that I think might have always been there, the freak product of an albino follicle.

Alors – so it’s back to the riots, where there’s conflict coming out of our ears. But while many are exhibiting surprise and shock at the events happening all over the UK, I feel distinctly ungobsmacked. Don’t get me wrong: I care, of course I care. It’s awful and terribly sad that anyone thinks that their time is well spent by smashing the window of a small independent florist while the owner looks on, crying and helpless. Innocent people have been mugged, attacked, terrified, shot and killed. Worse, a diner at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Holland Park lost her engagement and wedding rings.

It is very bad indeed. I hate violence of any kind. ANY kind. Burning down businesses, cars, homes; attacking innocent people in the street – it’s disgusting. But I’m not remotely shocked that it’s happening. Our kids have consumption coursing through their blood. They’ve been brought up in a country where education standards are falling, where possessions are all-important; in a society that shows us that owning stuff is all that counts, where no matter what Jessie J tells us, it is mos’ DEFinitely all about the money, money, money, that without it you’re better off dead because you sure as hell won’t get a job in the current climate. And then, over one glorious summer weekend, their total lack of cash suddenly stops being a barrier to having exactly what they want. They’re getting a chance to play supermarket sweep – in all likelihood without recriminations – in their favourite shops. They can smash, grab AND get on TV. It’s not right. It’s not OK. But it’s not surprising.

Britain has one of the widest income gaps in the world. People at the bottom end of our society are desperately poor, often ill-educated, pretty much devoid of role models and utterly hopeless. All around them, they see the rich getting richer. And, if they do read the papers, they'll know that their benefits are being cut, that their chances of getting a job are lower than ever, that they’ll never own a home and that the current government is making huge hacks into the welfare state without raising taxes for the very wealthiest. If I’d had their life experience, I reckon I’d be looting too.

What has upset me way more than the rioting, therefore, is the lack of comprehension shown, not just by stiff people my parents’ age, but by my younger friends, people I know on Facebook, who've labelled all the perpetrators as ‘scum’, who can’t see a better solution than bringing in the army and – longer term – signing an e-Petition that sees all convicted rioters losing all their benefits. Really? OK, let’s get tanks into the streets. Let’s encourage the police to fire at these young men who are heaving flat-screens out of Curry’s. Let’s use tear gas and rubber bullets that are meant to be non-lethal but which have killed nearly 20 people in Northern Ireland, eight of them children. That’s sure to calm the situation down. That will placate the rioters who are genuinely angry about the botched death of Mark Duggan last Thursday, or the teenagers who’re finally able to get their hands on boxfresh trainers for the first time in their lives. What do you want, civil war?

After that, yes, let’s cut their benefits. Let’s leave these miserable, angry, hopeless people with even less than they have now. SRSLY? I mean, I despair. If this is really what educated people think will improve the situation, then we’re all going to the dogs anyway. Head in hands.

Yes, these angry people who are terrorizing our streets need to be stopped, and fast. We’re all upset and ashamed. But these riots aren’t merely the cruel, isolated actions of some lowlife scumbags – these scumbags are the product of our longterm choices. They are OUR scumbags. Contrary to much of what I've read in the press and on social media sites, understanding why they have behaved in this way is categorically not akin to condoning it. It is possible to comprehend how this happened without saying it's OK that it did. Comprehension is not pity, not sympathy - it is not showing solidarity with the rioters.

I do not condone what happened, but I do not believe that mentally segregating off the criminals, seeing them as some freakish other type of Lower Human, is useful or desirable. I believe that the cause of the riots lies on all our doorsteps, that what is happening reflects badly on every single one of us. We get the society we deserve. The only way this is going to stop, long term, is when the income gap is narrowed, when the rich are taxed more, when services are not cut in this brutal way, when those behind this INSANE fiscal policy wake up and admit that it has made ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE to the limitless greed and ingenuity of City bankers, that the bankers' bank balances are not under threat, when the poor regain a sense of hope and possibility, when community bonds regenerate, when this terrible ‘us’ and ‘them’ culture we’ve created finally becomes more about ‘we’. I know, I know, gag and retch at my disgraceful cheesiness. But then take on board what I say: I’m right.

Now on to the REALLY important question: do I defriend?


  1. I aim to maintain the Facespace / Twatter acquaintances of people I personally dislike, as I find reading their offerings a valuable substitute for vigorous aerobic exercise. Nothing gets the blood pumping like some good quality misinformation, bigotry, or ill-founded conjecture, especially (as is so often the case) if it is also spelled incorrectly.

    By all means exclude these people from your newsfeeds, but retain the option of visiting their profiles when you feel your indignation glands in need of irrigation.

  2. defriend them all! dump Facebook. nothing good ever comes of it.

  3. "They are OUR scumbags." Beautifully put. Your "bring in the tanks" friends are just taking the easy option. Difficult societal and individual introspection is required to recognize that one can abhor what the rioters are doing, but still acknowledge an urgent need to interrogate the root causes.

  4. Great post Jane. Worrying as it seems, those who only see the "string 'em up" argument are on the other side of the same social coin. Will we learn from this? Only thanks to posts like yours, which are far more effective than defriending - just make sure they read it.

    PS. Your views are echoed in an article by Camila Batmanghelidjh which you might find interesting:

  5. You may be surprised to learn that I enjoyed reading your blog and thought it was extremely well written. I don't agree with everything but by and large I think you are right. And no, I would not "defriend". Everyone is entitled to their opinions whether they agree with you or not. Keep up the good work. X Mum

  6. Thank you for saying what I was thinking in a far more eloquent fashion than I could have managed. I also wondered whether it would be worth defriending people (especially those who invited me to sign the petition about looters "loosing" their benefits) and then realised that it would leave me with very few friends.
    And happy birthday for last week, I'm glad you're coping with it better than I did. I've been 34 for nearly two months now and have only just about got over the grumps that yet another birthday caused.

  7. Thanks to all of you for your insightful thoughts and valuable feedback - it's all been noted and put to excellent use, as you'll see when Week 3's POTW goes live. Please keep 'em coming.