Friday, June 09, 2006

Gonna to rock down to Electric Avenue

Operation Stef Seeks Positive Inspiration in South London saw its second airing of the week today.

It was sunny. I had cleared my hectic business and social calendar for the day and off I trotted out into sun-drenched South London in search of that feel good zeitgeist.

And things started well. One of the first semi-interesting things I saw was a ‘Metropolitan Police Catering Support Unit’ (a van) labelled with the call sign ‘Teapot 1’.

‘Yes, very good’, I thought, ‘even when they stage armed raids large enough to merit their own catering support, our police retain a sense of humour.’

I smiled.

And then, about two minutes later, I encountered my first police cordon of the day. It was quite large and encompassed a fair sized chunk of Lambeth.

According to the BBC

A teenager has been stabbed to death during a fight between a group of youths in south London.

The 15-year-old was with friends when they were surrounded by another group in Black Prince Road, Lambeth, on Thursday night, police said.

A row erupted between the two groups and the boy suffered a single stab wound to the left side of his chest.

Det Supt Richard Heselden said after the verbal altercation between the two groups, the larger group left the scene and returned armed with various weapons, including baseball bats and hockey sticks.

I was slightly unsettled by the thought that I had walked down the Black Prince Rd, a not particularly busy thoroughfare, with the other half on the way to the Fish and Chip shop an hour or two before the stabbing.

The other thought that crossed my mind is that I had taken a friend for a drink to nearby Cleaver Square to laugh at posh people only a few nights before. Cleaver Square has its own little middle class microenvironment; inhabited by well to do people playing boules and drinking chilled rose al fresco. Meanwhile, not much more than a particularly energetic boule throw away, emaciated crackheads are throttling each other for the sake of their next fix.

One of the single most bizarre aspects of life in London is just how close the very well off and the far from well off often live next to each other. In some places I could paint a line on the street separating the haves and have nots. It really does my head in sometimes, even though I grew up with it. And that polarisation is becoming more pronounced all the time.

The area around Black Prince Road was absolutely teeming with news crews today. Not because a Black kid being killed in South London is particularly unusual but because a knife was involved. For some reason, the mainstream media has decided that, all of a sudden, knife crime is going through the roof and it is covering every knife murder it can. If the kid had been killed a couple of months ago maybe one news crew would have covered the story.

Politicians have already jumped on the bandwagon and are calling for tougher penalties for people caught carrying knives.

I can’t help being reminded of the total ban on handguns back in 1997 and the sharp escalation in gun crime after that.

Off the top of my head I can think of at least a dozen reasons why violent crime is on the increase and, ban or no ban, if people are set on doing each other in they will find a way.

Still, drafting bollocks legislation gives our politicians something to do with their time and it does keep them off the streets.

-

OK, the Black Prince Road thing was a little depressing, so I punted off to Brixton Market to check out and photograph some of that sunlit vibrancy going on there.

After about ten minutes in Brixton, and five minutes with my little compact camera out, I was standing on Electric Avenue, snapping away when one of the stall holders, a Turkish looking bloke, called me over in a not unfriendly way…

Stallholder:Hey guvnor’

Me: ‘Yes’

Stallholder: ‘Look out for yourself taking pictures here’

Me: ‘Thank you but there’s no worry. I grew up around here. I understand’

Stallholder: ‘I don’t know if you grew up around here but you should know better. Look out for yourself. Look over your back. We don’t want people getting into trouble here’

Me: ‘Uh… thanks’

I think what upset me the most was the fact that the bloke didn’t recognise me for the street-smart social chameleon that I am; clearly mistaking me for some daft white bloke stupid enough to wave a shiny silver camera around in a dodgy area, legendary for its street crime.

I moved on.

And five minutes later another fucking stallholder warned me, in a not unfriendly way, to look over my back.

It was three o’clock in the afternoon and I could see a pair of policemen and three market wardens no more than 50ft away.

I gave up and went home.

Operation Stef Seeks Positive Inspiration in South London is now officially suspended indefinitely - until one of the major camera manufacturers brings out a camera that looks like a can of Special Brew or I can figure out how to make one myself.

6 comments:

24_frames said...

I was in south London on friday (Waterloo, Borough etc) and didn't have any trouble at all, having said that, that's not my point (I'm always aware that people are getting more narky about having their photo taken). I'd just like to add that (as you might have noticed) I've been in Glasgow quite a lot recently and I've noticed the same thing with working class and middle/upperclass living side by side. Take a wrong (or right) turn and you're in a different era, almost.
Luckily my girlfriend is tough so she looks after me in Glasgow :)

andy

Peter said...

Hi Stef, don't know what to make of Polly Toybee but I thought you might find this interesting:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1793617,00.html

Stef said...

@andy

I grew up in Waterloo/ Borough and love that part of the world dearly. It is, however, relatively lightweight compared to the joys on offer in places like Stockwell, Camberwell, Peckham, the Walworth Road and a depressingly large number of other South London neighbourhoods I could mention

Stef said...

@Peter

What to make of Polly Toynbee...

Hmmmm

Nothing very pleasant or useful IMHO. Definitely your typical well-paid limousine liberal, foisted on the public to help keep that false left-right paradigm ticking over that little bit longer

though I totally agree with her comment that knife crime has been atificially magnified by the media in recent weeks

but...

I'm pretty certain that violent crime is on the rise. In certain areas anyway.

Even if you were to believe official statistics, there's still the issue of the increased polarisation of our society which is masked by headline totals. Put simply, the shittier neighbourhoods are getting shittier.

but that's another post...

Maybe I should take Polly for a walk one day

Daniel said...

"One of the single most bizarre aspects of life in London is just how close the very well off and the far from well off often live next to each other. In some places I could paint a line on the street separating the haves and have nots."

Yeah. I always found it perplexing as a student. I always put it down to space or (a lack of) and the particularly Londonesque sense of indifference between the social classes this fostered

When I lived in Camberwell, and then Kings Cross, over two years despite the occasional mugging I heard of there was mainly a sense of 'live and let live'. Keep out of other people's business and they'll keep out of yours. Especially the gunwielding crack dealers who lived down the road from me Kings Cross or the mentallists (in the psychiatric sense of the word) round Denmark Hill way.

Anonymous said...

On a recent visit to see relatives in Camberwell, i commented that it was really bad what happened to that lad around here. the responcre to my comment was that the 'lad' wasin fact a local gang member whom had, along with his mates created a web stie with them brandishing guns on it.

Too often we see kids portrayed as these sweet little things, victims of a cruel society.

Hearing what this boy was really like has brought to light what I reaaly would not like to admit to, that some of these kids are spawns of the devil. in addition the parents are also to blame for bringing kids into the world and bring able to bring them up properly.