I hadn’t intended on penning the latest installment of On The Edge this soon, but by the same token, I hadn’t expected five or six riot vans to execute skids and u-turns in front of me in King Street, Manchester on Tuesday evening either, closely chased by a shower of simian shit raining down on the city centre. At about 3pm Tuesday afternoon, I’d received texts from both my brother and a mutual friend telling me “It’s going off in Manchester tonight, apparently.” I immediately took the assumption that it was total bollocks, just a knee-jerk reaction to the chaos that had consumed London. Rioting and looting had started in North London and was spreading across the city, copycat style. Businesses were being torched, shops smashed to bits. From my trusty bedroom bunker, from behind my laptop, scanner, John Cena mug and Spiderman action figure studio mascot, I gazed at the TV, slightly unnerved, a victim of my own attention seeking liar of a brain, kicking up it’s usual exaggerated stink. I’m eight years old again watching The Shining, A prisoner of my own mind’s eye.
The two do not compare, but for me, the feeling of sitting at my girlfriend’s flat Monday night, watching BBC News 24 felt almost as surreal as ten years earlier as my eighteen year old self waltzed in from college, all care free, only to learn of the horror unfolding in New York on September 11th 2001. On Monday, whole blocks in London were engulfed in flames, the sheer heat visible on the ground. In your mind, you tell yourself that it’s far away or an isolated incident, but there was no escaping the fact that we were witnessing history, albeit on the television. This isn’t Comic Relief. Come Wednesday night it would be five minutes walk away. Argue as much you like, but one takes notice when it’s all up in your face. One friend described the madness as “Like the snow days but bad.”
I would’ve been content with the televised highlights; like some kind of squalid after hours Match of the Day, knowing that your team had already won with a dirty ninety-second minute deflection; but live action was my destiny. These mindless trogladytes see one monkey snatch a flat-screen TV and replicate, even if they do drop the thing halfway down the fucking street on logistical grounds. The live news feed started to tell of shops going up in flames and running battles between riot police and youths. When you hear the sirens, I defy you to accurately gauge the distance between you and them. It’s kind of like a big budget trailer for Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes when you’re walking through town and it’s happening around you in 3D, high definition.
Since the advent of this madness, there’s been a discernable crackle of fear in the air. Suddenly everyone is alert, everyone is talking and everyone has their own theory on why this happened. It may sound wild but maybe our government needed this smack in the mouth to snap them out of their cotton wool wrapped ego-trances?
Here’s the thing, I am not going to get on the soapbox and start throwing about opinions because that’s not why I started this project and I doubt anyone gives a shit what I have to say about the rioting. I am sick of the Facebook Prophets airing their views and intellectual dissection of events in the aftermath of this social carnage. How many of them have spent any time on a council estate or lived on next to nothing? None of these drastic actions can be justified, but nor can running your mouth through Twitter when you’ve never had a taste of life without love or actively tried to help. If this is what it takes for the community to unite then so be it.
What is intriguing is the way that technology has given people a power to force change. Sadly we have seen the dark side of this over the past week. Under Thatcher, the riots in the 1980’s, Police radio was the only method of communication and distinct advantage. Now the tables have turned and even the most pig-headed, greed driven chimpanzees are able to orchestrate mass destruction with the press of a button. Sure, it’s a dangerous double-edged sword, but I personally find the possibility of these tools in the right hands very intriguing and would love to be at the forefront of the creative sector’s role in this impending revolution.
I grew up pretty poor. My dad worked his balls off in a factory on minimum wage for twenty years whilst my mum stayed home to look after my brother and I. We were taught respect and feared the wrath if we took the piss. I had a few beers with a close friend this weekend and we were laughing at an incident from school where he joined in ripping the stuffing out of the school bus seats. He was ensnared on camera, all black and white and grainy. His parents were briefed of his devilry. It took him 23 weeks pocket money to pay off the bill and he was grounded for six months. It didn’t happen again. Do you know what I mean?
What I hope will come of this is a response from the creative community. I’m already plotting my own project; hell, this blog came from a routine downturn in business. This week, Jon McClure released a new Reverend and the Makers track directly reacting to the unrest. Jon is one of the few artists still giving a shit about the things that are going on around him. The NME don’t like him as he tells it how it is, neglecting to play the game. I’ve met Jon and he’s a top bloke and speaks a lot of sense. Maybe the recession will spawn some decent music and some relevant visual communication; a few less children’s book ducks and a bit more rage? Anyone?
So far, I’ve had a moan, but we like a moan here, in England, right? I mean one of my friends read the first two posts of ‘On the Edge’ and immediately took time out of his work day to call me and take the piss. “You sound like you’re living in a fucking cardboard box you whining bastard, man up!” I suppose I was in the midst of a mini crisis but this week has seen an upturn in fortune with a welcome return to working for The Guardian and a commission for Nissan Magazine in Germany. It’s all about dragging those slippery little positives from the negative spells. I’m sure there will be many people taking NVQ’s in silver linings after the UK Riots.
I’m going to end on a positive. I’m lucky to be surrounded by some absolute harlequins and throughout the pandemonium they had their game faces on. So without further ado, here are the top three gems I’ve uncovered over the past week.
I’m giving bronze to ‘Brian,’ a chance eyewitness on the BBC News last Wednesday who told of his ordeal when the Manchester arm of violence flared up:
“They’re everywhere! They’re wearing hoods and everything…”
Say what you see mate.
Silver goes to a friend of my brother, in response to my suggestion that parenting had a major role to play in this problem and that my own fear of ‘The Clip’ meant that I would not have dared cross certain lines:
“I’ll never forget my mum chasing me up the stairs, slipper in hand while I make a dart for the top bunk, hugging the wall in pure fear.”
Finally, I’m giving gold to my own brother who suggested on Thursday morning:
“Maybe it’s time to send in Gazza.”