Thursday, August 11, 2011


I've had real trouble sleeping this week, maybe it's the riots, or the weird summer/windy autumn weather. Long story short tonight I'm lying here shattered contemplating what I miss about home.

I'm not about to write screeds about how I'm homesick and life is crap. It's not. Life is great. But no matter how much I enjoy London and the European travel, at the end of the day there's a lot that London-life just can't compete with.

Yes I miss L&P. Yes I miss pies (Jimmy's of course), I miss a good chocolate milkshake and only having to drive 10 minutes to get to work. 9Driving! I miss driving!) But most of the material things that only New Zealand can provide have actually found their way to London. If you haven't been here before you'll probably be surprised to know that some of the best coffee shops in London are run by kiwis - who knew our coffee was so good? I certainly didn't, despite being a barista for seven years.

But it's definitely not hard to decide what I miss most. It's the people. Cue the anecdote:

Whilst in the midst of duvet tousling and pillow rearranging as sleep evaded me, I suddenly remembered I'd forgotten to call the Inland Revenue to change my address.
Calling the IRD is a chore most people loathe to undertake. ('Would you mind holding for between 20 and 30 minutes?' Sure...why not...)
But tonight I skipped down the stairs to grab the phone and dial IRD's number with optimism.

After 10 minutes holding I was rewarded with the voice of a true born and bred kiwi. Now I live with all New Zealanders, but for some reason it feels so much more significant when the kiwi accent is being funnelled all the way from the homeland.
That voice and the words it spoke got me started on my "I miss New Zealand" buzz.

The way that IRD agent chatted with me about life and how I was "bearing up" in London is indicative of the uniqueness of New Zealanders. As per the good manners my mother taught me I always say please, thank you and enquire how people are at the beginning of a conversation.

These manners are received with confusion in many a London situation, and when people realise you're being friendly it can go either way; delight and surprise, or and angry scowl as though they think you're trying to teach them a nasty lesson.

I watched a lady in the street drop a magazine today, I ran after her, picked it up and handed it back to her informing her she'd dropped it. She stared at me for about three seconds with a look that said she assumed I was going to demand her handbag, before she realised I was actually doing her a good turn.

Kiwis are polite and friendly first, angry and suspicious second. I know I'm verging on vast and unfair stereotyping, but the comfort of being around New Zealander's day in, day out is what I miss most. People that would help you if you fell, smile and ask how you are, and crack a joke with a stranger as they wait for a free teller in Westpac.

Oh, and I miss the beach. A wild and windy beach without another soul for maybe one kilometre. But that's another blog post.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

London Riots

The afternoon the riots broke out I had been enjoying sunshine, reggae and a peaceful and celebratory atmosphere in the streets of Brixton - dancing in the sunshine, then the rain, and then the sunshine once again.
Everyone was happy and friendly. However, only hours later the same streets would apparently be over-run by youths smashing windows and looting stores.
There are different theories as to why the riots began; on Saturday morning there had been a peaceful protest over the police shooting of a local man, which subsequently turned nasty.
It seems unlikely however, that the crowd in Brixton would have decided to cause mayhem for the same cause - Tottenham and Brixton are on opposite sides of the city. In my view, the crowd which had been enjoying a casual and relaxed street party may have simply become discontent with the close of the festival and wanted a bit more action.
Brixton is a vibrant and multi-cultural area of london with strong afro-Caribbean influences, whether the locals were involved in the destruction or whether it was visiting youths is unknown.

Despite what sparked the riots in the first place, the chaos spread throughout Monday until various locations around London were occupied by offenders armed with bottle, hoods, and bags to carry looted goods.
It's been an uneasy atmosphere in the capital over the past two days. Images of entire blocks on fire just around the corner from a friend's place emerged this morning, and another friend reported she'd had to retreat back to her house from a run as she was confronted with a stand-off between police and hooded offenders in her main street.

It really does appear the disturbance has been an excuse for thrill-seekers to get a piece of criminal action - and get away with it. There's a lot of political speak coming from David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Ed Miliband today - but in actual fact no one seems to care. It's about the people here who are having to deal with the aftermath. The broom as become the symbol of power in Clapham - where the offenders tore through last night.

In a sight rarely seen in a city where everyone appears to be out for themselves, communities in different suburbs are banding together to save their businesses.

Tonight 16,000 police officers are manning London's streets and the mood in the most troubled areas is apparently much calmer than last night.
For me personally, I've escaped the drama, and it really does feel like it's happening in another world - or it would do had I not been able to hear sirens persistently ringing through the office window all day and see smoke billowing from the London horizon.

It really must look like a desolate and scary place from an outside observer faced with fearsome footage from the BBC. In reality however, London is still operating as normal on the whole, and it feels like there's only so much the rioters can so until they get tired of the game.
However, I'm sure those faced with a band of bottle throwers would have a very different take on it.

It some ways it's unfortunate that young people with nothing better to do are said to be responsible for mayhem. At least if there was some political agenda behind the rioting there would be a reason and some form of rationality. Instead, those responsible are simply giving the law-abiding youth a bad name and making a nuisance of themselves. What do they want to achieve? Some have said it's the poor showing the rich they can do what they like and take them for all they're worth. I sincerely hope this is not the beginning of a class division seen in other countries like Argentina.

For the time being however, we have all eyes glued to the news reports and warnings from police in case the situation escalates. Good luck to them trying to break through 16,000 police however - the forces have all the power they need to stop the destruction, someone just needs to give the order.