Code red: Bin on fire

WHAT a contrast Chalk Farm Road was in the early hours of this morning, compared to the surreal scene of Monday’s riots. Hardly a soul on the streets, it was like word had got around that a Kansas hurricane was on its way. The boards across the shops – for repair and protection – only added to this curious atmosphere. At the same time on Monday, riot squad police were blocking this road and young people were on the charge. At 1amish this morning, it was almost deserted.

We were there this morning to see what LBC were reporting: that youth disorder had caused a big fire in Chalk Farm. In these sensitive times and helicopters in the sky, that needed investigation. The radio station, with its unique relationship with Londoners, actually was one of the best performers during the first night of rioting. As Sky and the BBC struggled to work out what was going on in Tottenham and how it was spreading, LBC at least knew that Wood Green was being trashed and smashed while police were diverted. With a devoted following, it has more eyes and ears than most in the city.

But when we arrived in Chalk Farm, the scene was the kind of thing you could see in Camden every week, something that would hardly make a centimetre of newsprint at any other time of year. There was a bin. There was a fire. The fire in the bin was put out.

Of course, this was alarming to people in Eton Place and police on the scene clearly believed it had been started by teenagers, but the panic subsided quickly. While a pride of police officers were looking relaxed beside a line of safety tape, LBC was reporting that roads were still closed and devoted a large section of its main hourly news bulletin to it. A bin fire had made the big news. That’s not a gibe at LBC, it’s more a reflection of how these last few days have changed things for everybody.

Firstly, as police lock down the city, there are fewer incidents and so when a smaller event like a bin fire happens, it seems more important, more dangerous than it actually is. The fortunate outcome was that nobody hurt and some people living on the estate might even have slept through the drama. Secondly, people are still clearly just a little bit worried, even after two nights of calm. The sounds of sirens in London would normally blend into background. A racing panda car or fire engine heard down the road right now, however, makes a fair share fear we are back to looting and rioting; that a phone shop is being raided for its Blackberrys as we speak. People reach for Twitter to say they have heard sirens or seen the police in a hurry, when they would normally not flinch an eyelid. It’s an odd, changing feeling out there. It might take a while to get back to normal.

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