I was woken yesterday by an sms message from a friend in London saying “Riots!” followed by another saying “London’s getting ransacked!” I had noticed riots in the news over the weekend, but nothing prepared me for what I was about to see, bleary eyed and freshly roused from sleep (about 11pm in the UK).
Britain is considered one of the world’s ‘developed’ rather than ‘developing’ countries. It is widely trusted as a stable and safe place. I’m a British expat and generally live my life, wherever I am, comfortably confident that not much changes in Britain while I am away.
Over the past few days however, Britain has looked like the footage the world is used to seeing of turbulent countries in the Middle East and I am shocked. I am also very glad not to be there.
Panic on the Streets of London. Panic on the Streets of Birmingham
The news coverage of the recent rioting in London and the rest of Britain has left me feeling disappointed. Where is our ‘Green and pleasant land’? And where are the ‘English Gentlemen’ of days gone by? We Brits had a reputation that we have, for the most part, maintained, for politely queuing, putting up with (and then grumbling about) wrongs done to us and saying ‘please’ impossibly frequently. But I think our international reputation is changing, certainly if the international popularity of Little Britain is anything to go by. Seriously though, if the rioters and looters are representative of Britain’s future, then frankly, how embarrassing.
We Brits do not wear National pride on our sleeves like some other nationalities. Americans spring to mind for example. They erect American flags in their front yard and even fly little flags from their cars. You won’t catch the Brits doing that, but it doesn’t mean we don’t love our country.
We Brits take a subtle sort of pride in our country, typically in a self-depreciating manner. We moan about the weather and take it on the chin when people say the food is crap but we can be proud of many things. My favourite ‘British’ thing is probably the British sense of humour. Blackadder and Monty Python are National Treasures.
The Britain of the past few days isn’t the polite Britain of the past. This is a new, dangerous and worrying Britain. There are reports of the rioters and looters posing for photos in between lashing out, seemingly proud of their actions. Many of them are reported to be in their pre-teens, some as young as 10 years old. I know there are riots in Britain’s past, but none seem as shocking as these.
My heart goes out to the innocent citizens who have lost their homes because of the mindless vandalism of recent days, as well as the owners of small businesses who have clawed their way through this awful recession thus far, only to have their premises trashed and their stock stolen now. What do the rioters believe they will gain from these actions, apart perhaps from a TV?
I am unsettled by the unrest in Britain. The deplorable behaviour of a few is horrifying as well as deeply embarrassing.
One thing we Brits can all take pride in, is the ‘blitz spirit’ that has emerged in the form of riot clean up operations. I have learned through social media that people are gathering the morning after the destruction to tidy up the mess and repair their local areas, in as much as they can. The image below of the clean up in Clapham Junction warmed my heart.
Maybe the good, honest people are not outnumbered by the rioting youths, as the media would have us believe and Britain is still Great after all?
Were you planning to visit the UK soon? Have the riots made you change your plans?
Photo credits: @irevolt / boston.com / adam taylorTweet