THERE was a whispery, odd atmosphere in Wood Green High Road yesterday morning, with the street closed to its normal rumble of cars and buses and most of the shops decorated with broken glass chips and safety tape. Phone cameras clicked furiously everywhere. I saw a man ask his girlfriend to take a picture of him in front of the badly damaged T-Mobile shop. One for the album. There were jokes outside The Body Shop about why rioters would want lavender soap and eyelash curlers. HMV looked the most ransacked: a man size hole cut out of the front window almost as if some comic book supervillain had burst straight through it. The Amy Winehouse display in the front was left respectfully in tact – nearly every other shelf had been disturbed. From the mess on the floor, there were few takers for DVDS of Due Date and The Hangover. Vision Express and Boots had taken a hammering, Holland and Barrett just minor damage.
What had surprised people in Wood Green yesterday was the lack of mention of this hit on Shopping City on the rolling news channels which were covering the riots. The ‘Skycopter’ understandably flew low on the burnt out stores in Tottenham and concentrated on where the riots had begun. Some of the images of the devastation commanded attention, the shells of former homes and shops illustrated just how bad it had been.
But Wood Green was where the first breakout disturbance had began and the damage there clearly was not insignificant. Certainly, there were people in the area yesterday who felt something along the lines of …if this doesn’t have any mention on the news, it just goes to show how little people care about what happens in this neighbourhood. Their shops had been trashed and nobody seemed to care.
The BBC ran a half an hour pre-record on how great the schlympics are going to be next year and an episode of the worthy Hardtalk during some of the worst violence in Tottenham on Saturday night. To be fair to SKY News, they compiled a pretty even handed report about tensions in Tottenham later on Sunday. Yet, if anybody in Haringey actually living and feeling those tensions saw some of the studio discussions they would quickly come to conclusion that the experts lecturing them hadn’t a clue about how that part of the borough lives. Suggesting more youth clubs is very earnest, but deep problems about opportunity and education are not solved by table tennis and pool alone. Getting the disaffected to even turn up to an after school club is hard enough. Worst came when radio executive John Myers, railing against looting during a paper review last night scoffed: “Is Aldi lootable?”, essentially giving a big p’ah p’ah to the idea that people would want a trolley load of budget cola and cheap washing powder for free. Julie Bindel reminded him that when people were desperate, yes, Aldi really is lootable. Even more so than the shattered phone shops in some cases.
The gap between perception and reality was underlined on Twitter, the instant public survey. Jokes like ‘Fires in Tottenham, police suspect Arsene’ were doing the rounds even before the insides of that blazing double decker bus had collapsed in the High Road. Later, as the looting began, badly spelt racist cliches about black people leaving Nando’s alone because they love chicken and how they would be quick to rob weave shops took over. Lol. Lolz. Not really.
It could be argued that by downplaying or ignoring the damage in Wood Green can go some way to reducing copycat riots. There was some suggestion of an agreed media blackout in some areas yesterday – the process where police and media chiefs agree to tone down their coverage for fear of inadvertedly encouraging more trouble. But it has been suggested in a heap of places already that those actually involved in the burning, throwing and looting were more likely to have been inspired by messages on social web networks. There were plenty of ‘riot over here!’ tweets from Guardian reporters in Enfield and Edmonton and other professionals out in Brixton on day two. Reporting from the rush of the scene, the debate over getting the tone right is a tricky one to decipher. The right balance was probably struck in the end, probably – I’m not sure how many shop smasher-uppers dream of being on a Guardian Liveblog in the same way as they often like to prick about behind a TV reporter in a Berghaus. But the concerns were genuine.
On one hand people feel ignored if their area gets smashed up and nobody says anything, there’s no reporting, on the other people worry if the reporting they do get on TV or Twitter effectively says: Loot as like you like over here. It’d be interested to hear from anybody who can solve that reporting riddle.