13 August, 2011
Woolwich, the aftermath
On my previous visit on Monday afternoon well before the evening's celebrations kicked off, I remarked on how in the Great Harry, which itself was to be burnt out only a few hours later, the customers, both native and Nigerian, were half-watching television reports of rioting and looting elsewhere in London with the sort of vague mildly voyeuristic detachment that they might apply to pictures of crowds of anonymous wogs shouting, gesticulating and generally milling about in some nameless city in the Middle East or of dumbstruck flyblown starving pickneys in the Horn of Africa. In other words, too much instant information, mediated and remote and irrelevant to one's immediate concerns.
And anyway London is not a single place. Events in Lewisham or Eltham might interest us. We've been there, it's just a bus ride away. But Clapham, Tottenham, Enfield, Hackney, Southall. They might as well be in Asia or Africa. (What? Yes OK, in some ways they actually are, but you know what I mean.)
So when I set off to view the aftermath in Woolwich with my own pretty blue eyes, I wondered what impact it would have on me. The events of the last week have been momentous. Remember, this has not been a few overexcited kids waving their arms about a bit; there has been riot, looting, arson, and murder. And yet it all seems vaguely unreal. Yet another tacky long-winded television drama, where the director will soon call "Cut!", the dead will get up and troop off to the canteen for a mug of rosie and and a bacon butty, and the monkeys will start to sweep up the special-effects débris.
Would seeing real damage in the flesh (or in the ruined smoke-blackened brickwork, anyway) bring it to life?
In the event, the impact was non-existent. OK, I was perversely disappointed that the Great Harry, below, had not been reduced to a roofless, collapsed shell. Was I secretly hoping for something more spectacular like the fate of Reeves Corner in Croydon or the old Co-op building in Tottenham? Given that they've bothered to board up the upper windows of the building and that adjacent buildings seem completely unaffected, I'd guess this block, which I first knew 30 years ago as a FADS decorating supplies store, might be structurally intact and capable of renovation. But they still won't be serving bottles of Lech there for a while.
(As is usual, click through the thumbnails below for the full-sized picture.)
In the picture below, while the T-Mobile shop next door obviously attracted the interest of the free shoppers, the building to its left, which I believe was a chavvy clothing store (Blue Inc?), got the full treatment and is in process of being demolished.
In case the picture is unclear, the tree is actually in the street; it hasn't grown overnight in the ruins of the building. Now that would be truly impressive.
The jeweller's and pawn shop on Thomas Street got particular attention, and remains closed, displaying a poignant notice.
I expect they would indeed like to give a few people a "piece of their mind".
The block shown below houses a Barclay's Bank (boarded up). The smoke-blackened part is over the entrance to a small supermarket (Wilkinson's, I think).
But what has struck me most about the aftermath in those parts of London I have visited in the past few days (the Centre, Canary Wharf, Greenwich and Woolwich), has been the absence of a response. Among the White British and assimilated non-White population with whom I mostly associate, the general attitude is a disgusted shrug followed by just getting on with it. There is little discussion of the riots or the resulting damage. Perhaps we're becoming inured to stuff like this. Among the more exotic residents I detect a more subdued atmosphere; there is a certain "carefulness" in the air.
I dunno, maybe I'm imagining things. But it reminds me a bit of 7/7. Having failed to get into work that day, I returned and spent some time wandering round downtown Woolwich. In the intensely Africanized area near the old covered market on Plumstead Road where the African market mamas ply their incomprehensible jumble of wares amid piles of uncollected rubbish, the "colourful" residents seemed totally oblivious of what had happened in London. They seemed to live in a self-contained little bubble, interacting little with the surrounding communities. The events of last week, impinging as they did on their immediate locality, must have puzzled them greatly. Subsequently on that day back in 2005 I repaired to the Earl of Chatham (which appears to have survived last week's festivities entirely unscathed). Contrary to Islamist claims that the White Infidels were cowering in terror, the indigenes were watching events unfold on BBC News 24 while supping their pints, expressing general disgust and worrying about how they were going to get to work the next day.
Perhaps it's about time we stopped being so phlegmatic and easy-going, and started kicking a few impudent arses.
Mr Greenwood wishes it to be made known that there is absolutely no truth in the rumour that he burned the Great Harry down on Monday 'cos he was well annoyed that they had increased the price of a bottle of Lech from £2.60 to £2.70. Honest.
Suggested alternative drinking venues now the Great Harry is out of commission- the Old Mill, Plumstead Common (at the end of the 53 bus route- sunny secluded garden, but a bit pricey, despite the general tattiness of the place)& The British Oak, Old Dover Rd (20 yards from Blackheath Bluecoat School, on 386 bus route. The grumbling teachers, who often congregate in the Oak, should, thankfully, be away for another month.)
Keep calm & carry on !
Dare we hope to see the Guardian offices in a similar state of enrichment soon ?
Fortunately my visits to the Great Harry were just part of my periodic resupply runs to Sainsbury's. It was my habit to pop in afterwards for a couple of drinks to cushion the impact of the culture shock. Purely for medicinal purposes, you understand. I'll have to do it cold turkey in future. At least Keith at the Earl of Chatham might benefit from this by getting some of his old customers back; perhaps I'll take my medicine in there.
I tend to do most of my recreational imbibing in Greenwich. I originally read your comment yesterday afternoon on my mobile standing outside the Coach & Horses in the Greenwich covered posh tat and fancy takeaways market while sipping a pint of Palm out of a poncy glass.
Same here Edwin- either the huge Wetherspoons or, for something less rough round the edges, the Richard 1, with it's large west- facing garden. Of course, a dozen years ago,before the expansion of the Uni, there was a much better choice- including the Cricketers (now gone gay ?) & the Admiral Hardy (now a student hangout/tourist trap).
Mr Gilligan of the Telegraph used to frequent the Richard quite a bit(or the Tolly, as long standing Greenwich residents call it). The poor man appears to have had an unfortunate collision with the excess of vibrancy that has occurred in London over the past week-