Our friend the shopkeeper was caught up smack bang in the middle of last night’s rioting in Peckham. Here she recounts first hand what was what and what is. Unfortunately no-one knows what will be….
An experienced shopkeeper always knows when there’s trouble in his hood. There’s a kind of hush that descends, and the subtle noises of the high street change. People start behaving oddly – staring at something just out of sight, or running in all directions. Occasionally there will be shouting. Or screaming. Last night in Peckham it was an eerie quiet that made us finally think we should shut our shutters. But we had already had the heads up: Peckham is that kind of place. Word spreads fast, shopkeepers look after each other, neighbours hug regularly. So at half past five we closed.
Frankly, I had refused to believe there would be trouble in Peckham. Even when the nice man from the Southwark News called to ask us about it. So when things kicked off I felt a bit foolish as well as angry. And scared.
Contrary to my rubbish predictions that stuff would be contained in Rye Lane, where most of the chain stores are located, it all started in Peckham High Street. But then…there is seemingly no logic or game-plan to this violence, and so predicting what will happen next is impossible. 150-200 youths (at a guess – when you’re worried things usually look worse than they are) started throwing things around. The police responded quickly, but it didn’t stop the high street turning into a battleground. Buses were stopped and evacuated, and the smell of smoke and the sound of breaking glass soon filled the air. As a passive observer, I watched as kids arrived, donned masks and hoods and went to it. And then the same in reverse later in the evening. Most of these kids were not from round here. And most of them were white.
As shopkeepers who live above their shop we felt in equal measures relieved that we were there to keep an eye on things, and terrified – for if they had broken into the shop what, precisely, could we have done about it? There came a point where I was standing behind our shop shutters, in the dark, with looters just one metre away. I questioned whether our shutters would hold. I prayed they’d move on. I hoped they wouldn’t spot me, skulking there, transfixed. I started shaking a little bit. To see such utter contempt and rage so close, on the snarling-yet-gleeful faces of the perpetrators, makes you question what it is that makes up a human being.
The riot police soon appeared: I have to confess that their presence was very reassuring, and when two rows of men-in-black hummers cruised up the middle of the road, I couldn’t resist a faint cheer. The police seemed to drive a wedge between two groups of looters, the majority of whom then headed towards Rye Lane. Thereafter there was only sporadic shouting in the high street, although following events on Twitter we realised that it was very far from over. We slept with a baseball bat under our pillow, a fire extinguisher next to the door, and our cat basket to hand, just in case.
The morning after: and again that strange, not quite normal hush hung over the town centre. We have to pay full credit to Southwark Council, as by 9am the streets had largely been cleared of debris. But people looked strange, tired. And the aftermath was all too obvious (see the gallery above). I would have been fine, but there were so many well wishers calling to check on us that, well, I had a wee wobble. Quite out of character, honest: but do you know what? I think it was shock.