At 0349 today the boy celebrated his first birthday. Keeping every cliché firmly behind bars, it has been an extraordinary year, not least because so little happened last August that his birth nearly made headline news. Today barely an hour goes by without some front page splash knocking the last big story into yesterday – Ryan Giggs and Twittergate seems like a bad dream now that we’ve had Murdoch and Foamgate, Greece on the verge of default, Obama and AAA-gate. The fact that England are about to become the No. 1 cricket team in the world, the first time that any England team has been in that position since 2003, has almost been consigned to a diary story.
The third night of rioting in Clapham Junction took place about 500 metres from where we have moved to. Helicopters thwomped overhead most of the night, but we have had that before, and it was not until I took the boy down to the police cordon that we got a clear idea of the trashing. With the stock markets crashing around us, the debate re-ignited about youth unemployment there was a look in the eyes of more than one father pushing a son, wondering what we had got our children into. And then there was the news that children born now have a 1 in 8 chance of living to 100! 100 years of this. Even Dante would not have wished that on anyone.
To make sense of this week’s demolition, many have turned to Violent London to give the week’s events perspectives. But looking down the road to the burnt carcass of Debenhams, mutilated wreckage from every shop leaking across the high street, what was most impressive was the image that the city’s hinterland had been visited upon us, a recreation of the brilliant book Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness. In the space of a few hours the neighbourhood had been converted into a wasteland from a Ballard novel, as though a deranged Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen had been set the task of turning the capital into his vision of a dystopian future.
The boy’s birthday party will have to wait until Saturday when his tricycle will be unveiled and the cupcakes, so lovingly baked, will be smeared all over the kitchen floor. In time though, even the trike will be relegated to the loft, while England continues to burn. This, my son, is your real inheritance. Happy birthday!