Tuesday, August 9, 2011

This is NOT COOL!

As I'm sure you've heard by now, London has been ravaged by riots for the past 3 days.  What started as a protest over a man being shot by the police in Tottenham has escalated into a free-for-all of arson, looting, and terror across the city and beyond.  People I know in Clapham and Ealing reported looting in their neighborhoods last night, and while there is a counter-movement to help clean up the mess, the police are preparing for another night of insanity tonight.

I assumed we were relatively safe here in Wimbledon as we are on the outskirts of London in a very quiet, family-oriented residential area.  When Josh wondered aloud to his colleagues at work whether the rioting would spread to Wimbledon, they laughed at the idea.  I think it would be akin to rioting in an affluent suburb of a major US city, like Arlington, VA or Bethesda, MD in DC -- or Palo Alto, CA.  So when I walked into Wimbledon town center this afternoon to run a few errands, I certainly didn't expect what I saw.
WH Smith (bookstore)

 It was 3:30 in the afternoon, and all the stores were closed.  The entire Centre Court shopping mall was closed.  All the supermarkets were closed.  There were police EVERYWHERE.  I must have seen at least 3 dozen police officers -- all in pairs or trios -- within a 3-block radius.  For some reason, that made me feel less secure.
I was able to pick up a few things for dinner at the one tiny market that was still open, and then headed to the bank to see if I could at least get some cash from the ATM, even though it was clearly closed.  Standing right outside the bank was my friend Ingrid from the AWC, which was a nice surprise.  It was the first time I have bumped into someone I know in London, and we both commented on how that made us feel more like we actually live here.  She was in the same boat -- trying to run errands but unable to accomplish anything.  We compared notes on various rumors we'd heard about the rioting and debated whether to cancel the coffee meeting we had planned for tomorrow morning.  We decided to play it by ear, and then headed home as the increased police activity was making us both nervous.

I checked the news when I got home and found a disturbing report about fears of looting in Wimbledon tonight.  I also learned that a shopping center in Collier's Wood, which we have walked to from our house, was looted and burned last night.  I had a chat with my neighbors on both sides over the back fence, and learned that Wimbledon is a likely target for looters because of all the transportation links and the concentration of shops around the station.  People can get here via train, Tube, tram, or bus and conveniently loot the shopping mall right next door, or branch out to the electronics stores across the street, and then hop back on a train or bus to get home.  Why destroy your own neighborhood?  I heard they may try to close the Wimbledon station entirely at some point, but people still need to get home from work.

My neighbor Anna said I was welcome to hang out at her house if I felt uncomfortable being home alone, but I'm more worried about Josh getting home late tonight.  He has an important business dinner in Farnborough tonight, so he won't be getting home until after 10 pm.  I told him I'd monitor the local news and train status and let him know if there were any potential problems that might prevent him from reaching our house safely. 

For now, we are both fine and out of harm's way, but dismayed by the widespread, senseless violence and vandalism that is destroying our new home.  Here's hoping that the worst of it is over.

ADDENDUM:  Josh made it home safely at 11:45 pm.  London was largely calm and quiet last night, thanks to increased police presence and everything closing early, but the looting and violence spread to other cities in England.


  1. You two have been on my mind as I read about the mayhem in your new city. Now I see that the good guys are rising up to defend their cities from such hooliganism. Good for the gutsy Brits! Stay safe.

  2. Please be safe. I'm thinking of both of you. During my last trip to London in May 2009, I got literally stuck in the midst of a crazy protest right along the Thames. There were over 6,000 protestors there with all sorts of fires burning. It was scary, to say the least . . .


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