Topic: Casino Avenue
I believe that where you feel safe in the world is very much an instinctual thing, and rarely corresponds to actual risk.
I once sweet talked a bus driver, who'd finished his route, into going a little further and dropping me at my east end home, rather than cross the five lane junction. It was only idleness or at least weariness that prompted me to ask, and I was pretty surprised he'd agreed. It soon dawned on me that he thought I'd requested an extension to my journey because I was frightened.
'How can you stand to live somewhere so dangerous?' he asked, as he drove me home in a gigantic red juggernaut (police cars and ambulances aside, the most dangerous vehicle on the roads, if you ask me).
'Aren't you scared? I would never walk around safely in an area like this.'
Fact is, my presence in the area was one of the effects of yuppification. Too mediocre to own expensive things*, I was always going to be bobbing on the surface of any 'ghetto', and never going to be a target for violence like the never-mixing black, asian, and working class white congregations were.
[* I'd like to identify with the moneyed classes of St Katharine's Docks, Wapping, Canary Wharf, etc, but reality intrudes: the one time I was burgled, the police officer consoled me with the words 'with all due respect madam, there's nothing in your flat that anyone would want to steal']
A friend who'd grown up in the slightly more violent area of Whitechapel had been stabbed in the street there a few years back. Yet he regarded my area as too violent to hang out in. Having seen a daylight stabbing in Whitechapel myself, I thought the reverse to be true, but was disabused: 'Bow's more dangerous than Whitechapel, because the violence is under the surface there,' he assured me.
I deduced that personal safety must be something nebulous; I'd never felt unsafe in Bow; ergo it wasn't unsafe.
Compare and contrast to Bromley by Bow where I was once conned into getting into a strange van and had to plead to be let out, where I've glimpsed dancing figures around forty foot bonfires in the centre of what were meant to be tennis courts, where the local authority housing is infested with rats and children are covered in open cuts and scars, where the yuppies in the local private gated community actually run to the local station in the mornings, resolutely staring ahead, away from the cars with broken windows. I'd rather be boiled in oil than wander around there alone after dark, but the yuppie flats there are selling like, um, hot flats, whereas mine markets as more of a sort of stodgy, unwanted tapioca pudding. (dead metaphor alert)
Sydenham on a dark boozy Saturday night feels dangerous. There are gangs of loudly chatting youths in dark driveways and alleys, who deliberately exaggerate their gestures as you pass. Cars hurtle up and down the hill at improbable speeds, and traffic signs become more of a guideline than legally binding. People bundle out of kebab shops and offies running or shouting, and you try not to look too closely to find out why.
Most of the streets are deserted, but the Chariot cafe on the high street has a different middle aged couple (feasting on coke and roast chicken dinner) in the window seat every weekend. It's tempting to sneer, but hell, they're the ones eating a large meal, with someone, looking perfectly happy under neon strip lighting with a wipe clean menu to peruse, and you're beyond the glass walking slightly too fast as you pass, huddled under a hat that looks white when you nervously glance at the CCTV screen, so who's the idiot?
The lady who owns the beauticians is alone there every night, sat at the nail bar, over bleached hair looking vulnerable in the last bright circle of light. She looks nervously at an open doorway in the rear of the shop as you pass, where a bulky tattoed line of defence may or may not emerge.
You begin to notice the cars, slowing as they come level to you, that have passed three times now, and that out of the two middle aged women on the street, one's slack face holds dark pinpricks of wasted, unseeing eyes, and the other: is she leaving the late night grocer, or is she being thrown out? She has the smooth cheeks and the too attentive posture of the mad. That leaves you, and the kids at the crossing with the cans and the plastic bags. And the car that you might have seen before, turning in the street ahead.
Safety's a purely nebulous, instinctive thing. I feel safe here, but I have bars on the windows, a video entry phone, casement locks, and I draw all the curtains when I leave.
It seems unnecessary to me, right now, but it would take just one incident for those bars to feel more like they're penning me in than keeping others out.
So I'm holed up in my beige basement, and I'm not going out tomorrow. I have a roast to cook (never done that before), I have the entire series of Roots to watch (never done that before), and I'm not so sarcastic about jatb's apocaplyptic theories to actually go looking for trouble (she pointed out that after 9/11, 3/11, tomorrow's 4/11, it's a big religious festival, this is London; come off it, I've seen enough horror movies to know when not to push my luck).
It's me, a dead bird, and Alex Haley from hereonin.
"When you clench your fist, no one can put anything in your hand, nor is there anything you can pick up" Omora Kinte