I never thought I would ever blog about Croydon. This is where I work, where I am going Monday, Wednesday and Thursday when I say I am knitting on the train. And then there was last night. As we were packing up at the end of the day, messages came in from friends saying 'get home quickly'. The BBC reported the police expecting trouble that had begun in Tottenham to spread south of the river and reach Croydon.
I took this picture just outside my office on a fine day last November. Last night just a few yards from here the atmosphere was not sunny. Dashing into the department store for something I needed for today I was served very quickly by two nervous looking ladies. One of the many policemen standing every few yards on the High Street stooped to stroke a young girl's dog, I heard him say 'are you alone? I suggest you go straight home now'. Another policeman was chatting with a group of youths, one boy said - 'this is damage is just stupid'. People were standing around quietly in disbelief, something nasty was coming. 'Calm before the storm' is over used but last night felt just as it does immediately before a thunder storm.
I felt it at Clapham Junction too where I waited for my connection.
I sat glued to 24hr news last night, watching a furniture store burn like matchwood with what looked like two jets of water aimed at it by lone firemen. More fires broke out close to the town centre but in the dark it was hard to identify where the fires were. There was no word of people being injured but with all those fires and so much smashed glass it was hard to believe no one was hurt. This morning this photograph of dramatic rescue in Croydon was the Guardian front page
Riots like this are shocking wherever they take place, and I remember the last time more than 20 years ago when this happened in the UK, but when it takes place in streets you know, where you wander shopping in your lunchtime
Or go for a coffee
it becomes more than shocking news reel. Of course there are tensions in Croydon, poverty too and there are often signs of weekend fights left over for the street cleaners on Monday mornings. The level of violent crime is probably no less than any other inner city community. But when I see 'gangs of youths wandering the town centre' at lunch time they are chatting, jostling each other and laughing, more often than fighting or making a nuisance of themselves. I once saw two groups of young men squaring up to each other and then two elderly West Indian grandmothers wade in, tear a strip off them all and tell them to run home to their mothers - and they did.
There are some beautiful buildings in Croydon. It is easy to think, wandering around the steel and glass shopping mall that Croydon is a creation of the second half of the 20th century but look harder and you will find evidence of a much longer past
These alms houses were built with money bequeathed by a 17th century Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift, whose country residence was just outside the town. The inscription reads Qiu Dat Pauperi Non Indigebit.
They sit right on the end of the High Street, next to a department store
Above a bar you can see the beautiful shop front of an earlier department store still advertising ladies mantles, ribbons, laces and gloves
The view from my office window is less inspiring
But there are pretty things to see in the shop windows
I was still worried about my colleagues as I checked my emails this morning, did I need to? Only one message 'I will be in a bit late, some travel problems' . So it's business as usual, no one seems to be prepared to let the horrible behaviour of a relatively few very young people spoil a community that is genuinely proud of it's town. Perhaps it takes something like this for people to say so. Like other areas (Hackney and Clapham included) local residents have organised themselves, using twitter and facebook for positive good, to get together and clear up litter and broken glass and no one is making a fuss about being a little late for work.
But people are sad, my PA said the worst hit area is where she grew up, her parents had bought their first sofa at the furniture store that was reduced to a pile of ashes in less than an hour and it is all still a bit scary.