Friday, 12 August 2011

Friday Flash - The Swarm

Eliza stood in the queue for the omnibus. The line at the stop snaked around the corner into Taffeta Street. On a normal Tuesday evening, silence would hang heavy in the queue. Citizens would stare straight ahead, eager to avoid even eye contact with those around them. Today, nervous chatter filled the air as people jostled together amid handshakes and greetings.

"Looks funny up there, doesn't it?" asked the woman beside Eliza.

"I'm sorry, what does?"

"The sky. It's essentially empty."

Eliza looked up. Dirigibles should be puncturing the thick plumes of smoke from the factories out west, puttering through the clouds. Instead, a bomber droned above the city on its third sky patrol of the afternoon.

"I heard they tore down the north east transport tower last night, right before they torched the scrapyard," replied Eliza.

"Really? Well I'm not surprised the Council stopped the airships running after that,” said the woman. She gestured to the queue. “I suppose that explains why there are more people waiting for the omnibus."

"I've never seen it this busy so early but I suppose everyone wants to get home before Curfew." Eliza glanced at the Public Order notice strung from the lamp post. Black letters on a red field spelled out the consequences of disobeying a Curfew.

"All the shops are closed in the Merchant's Quarter. Even in Central Street – it should be heaving by now." The woman noticed a shopkeeper across the street. He drew a rattling iron grille across the window of his butcher's shop before scuttling away.

"All the shutters in the world won't stop the Swarm," replied Eliza. She looked up the street, half expecting to see them stampeding towards her.

"Do you think they’ll come again tonight?" asked the woman.

"I don't know. How do you predict a mentality like that?"

Eliza shuddered to think of the Swarm, rampaging gangs of feral youths from the hinterlands around the city. They'd ventured into the outlying suburbs before, usually just to scavenge, but only in twos or threes. No one had ever seen so many at once, pouring into the City to loot shops, burn buildings and attack anyone who got in their way.

"Did you see what they did to Renfield?" asked the woman.

"Yes, someone brought the daguerrotypes into the office. All those poor people...I heard they had to pull the buildings down. Too much fire damage, or something," replied Eliza.

"Shocking, shocking. And I bet that's bad news," said the woman. She pointed to the telegraph wires overhead. They thrummed and bounced between posts. The police commandeered the network the night before, and judging by the violent vibrations, the news wasn't good. Eliza imagined her nerves looked the same way.

A horse-drawn police wagon clattered past. A banshee clung to the roof, wailing a warning. The queue fell silent to watch its progress along the cobbles. A gust of wind lifted the canvas flap to reveal grim-faced policemen clad in grey uniforms. White knuckles wrapped around batons. The same gust of wind brought the sharp scent of smoke. The tension in the queue wound itself tighter.

"Looks like it's started already. So much for the Curfew," said Eliza.

An omnibus trundled along the street. The sign on the front announced the destination as Edinsville, a bohemian community to the east. Eliza turned to the woman beside her.

"Are you going this way?" she asked.

"No, I'm waiting for the one to Onslough. You have a safe trip home though," said the woman.

"You too." Eliza reached out and squeezed the woman's shoulder. The woman smiled.

Eliza clambered on board the omnibus and slipped into the last available seat. The passengers shared idle reports of things they'd heard or seen, dropping to conspiratorial whispers to discuss what the police should do about the Swarm. Eliza found herself drawn into a conversation between two men in suits.

The omnibus trundled into Becker Square. Front doors stood open as quaking homeowners stepped into the street. They clutched makeshift weapons culled from the items left lying around their homes. Loyal household automatons placed themselves as guards in front of the families they served.

Eliza wished each and every one a safe night.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

London : The Aftermath

I'm pleased to report that London was quiet last night, aside from some minor disturbances that were dealt with quickly. Sadly I can't say the same for Birmingham and Manchester, and I only hope their inhabitants rally around the same way London has to both clean up, and stand up for their city. Let's hope the worst is over.

Of course, now the time for analysis has begun. I couldn't believe the audacity of those making excuses for the appalling behaviour of the rioters and looters while the city was still in shock, but then it's so easy to make proclamations or spew forth rhetoric when the trouble is happening so far away from you, isn't it? I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one whose sympathies rest with those made homeless, or those whose businesses have ben lost - not with the perpetrators.

Still, that said, I read this interesting piece on The Guardian this morning and felt compelled to share the link. In it, the journalist describes possible explanations for the riots. Note the word "explanations". She doesn't excuse their actions, but offers instead potential causes - a far more productive exercise, since now we have something to tackle. Personally, I never bought into the idea that the riots were grounded in anything directly political, particularly considering most of the trash spilling out of the mouths of the hoodies regarded them taking what they wanted, or finding the riots to be "good fun". Yes, the budget cuts have been horrendous and in many cases they're nothing short of outrageous, and one has to wonder if Theresa May is still intent upon cutting police numbers. However, people have been living in a state of both deprivation and dependency on social services for several generations now, and it would be both unfair and simplistic to simply point the finger at the current government. The causes are too deeply rooted.

I think the points raised in this article are far more pertinent. The looters did not target high end or high profile stores in the affluent West End, as the anarchists did during the student fee protests earlier in the year. That would have made the riots directly political. Nor did they raid their local shops for essentials, which would have made their plight both political AND understandable. No, they looted general consumer goods, and where they weren't available, they looted cigarettes and alcohol. Yes, this is political in a way, but it highlights a fundamental problem at the heart of our culture, and points to the "Have" and "Have Not" divide within our society. The very fact that many attacks were orchestrated using the BlackBerry Messenger service points to the fact that the so-called "disenfranchised youth" want to be a part of the consumerist society, but find themselves largely unable to do so. You or I would either purchase what we'd like to own on credit, or save up to buy things, but when you can't get credit and have no means to earn money, the only way you might believe you can attain these mostly unnecessary "symbols" is by simply taking them.

I'm not saying that's right. I think it's abominable, and you have to wonder how they would react if I walked into their house and said "I want a 42" plasma TV but I can't afford one so I'll just have yours, thanks". Yes, I think the government need to tackle the social causes which leave these people thinking that this is the only way they can connect to society, but I do think we need to see a cultural change so that you aren't viewed as a member of society based on the number of consumer goods you've managed to amass, but rather on your behaviour within and towards that society. Of course, this is where the politicians need to rein themselves in, since their encouragement of consumer spending in order to stimulate a failing economy is exacerbating the problem, instead of easing it.

We're bombarded on a daily basis by advertising that promises a better life if only you buy certain products. We're living in a society in which kids insist on their own TVs in their rooms, or video games consoles each, instead of learning to share. This is a world in which the family unit has broken down, each member going their own way instead of connecting to one another. London is a vast, lonely city, and I understand that totally disconnection from the local community, but I'm lucky that I come from an incredibly strong family unit so that even when I'm 300 miles away from it, I still feel part of a group. Not everyone is so lucky, and it's no wonder the gang mentality takes hold so easily since it's a natural human need to want to belong to a group. We're a social animal and we like feeling like we're part of something bigger. It's just a shame that "something bigger" has to take on such negative traits before anyone pays attention to the problem.

If you want to do something positive, @RiotCleanUp is still orchestrating a clean up operation, and donations are still welcome for those in Tottenham. Or how about we all just check on our neighbours?

Tuesday, 9 August 2011


I usually try, as much as I can, to keep real life off this blog, but not today. I'm sure I wasn't the only one transfixed by the live news feed covering the London riots. Please, let's get one thing straight. This is NOT civil unrest. This is wanton violence. Gangs of thugs are waging a war of terror on local communities. This is not a protest as a protest has a cause for which it is campaigning. This does not. If it were, I wager we'd be less likely to see shops being broken into and looted. Making it a point to clear out an electronics shop should not be your priority if you have something important you want society to hear. Someone last night was having a go at me, saying that it was all down to the global economy. What nonsense.

Luckily the boroughs in which I live and work have been thus far unaffected, but I do know people who have been near the trouble. I hesitate to call it trouble since it is far, far worse than that, but I'm not sure what else I should call it. Sufficeth to say, they're all okay, but there are so many who aren't. As a result, all the stuff I've been stockpiling to go to charity when I move will now be going to those made homeless by these riots. If you want to do the same, you can take things to Tottenham Green Leisure Centre at 1 Philip Lane, N15.

If you know vulnerable people in London, please, go and check on them. They might be perfectly safe but they might be scared. It goes without saying but if you hear of trouble brewing, don't go to see what's going on. I was shocked by the number of onlookers at Mare Street in Hackney, as if they were wanting to see something kick off between the rioters and the police.

Also, if you live in London, follow @RiotCleanUp on Twitter to find out how you can help. I've been utterly struck by how quickly Londoners have swung into action, be it the groups standing up to the rioters and keeping their communities safe (let's hear it for the boys who held Dalston!) or those who've pledged to help clean up the mess. Personally, I'd make those who've been arrested for looting get their hands dirty, but that's just me.

I've never considered myself a Londoner, always a Geordie just living here, but I don't like what they're doing to the city. As the media keep pointing out, we shouldn't see scenes like these in London - but nor should we see them ANYWHERE.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Photo Prompt 45

Latest prompt, ready and waiting.

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! If you don't comment on this entry, then I can't comment on your story.

The 45th prompt is Piccadilly.


All photo prompts are my own photography - you can find more of it on Flickr. You can also buy my prints from Deviantart. 20% of all proceeds go to charity - the other 80% go towards my PhD fees!