Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Reclaim the streets

Last night social media came into its own and rolling news ended up looking silly.

At about 1am, as the London riots reached Camden, I got chatting to my neighbour Kim. "BBC News is rubbish," she said, "What's going on?"

I told her we were getting our news off Twitter. "Oh," she said, "How do I do that? I only use it for the celebrities."

Not that Twitter was entirely reliable. You know how in an office there's normally one PA who can't resist sending round emails saying "Just passing this on, but a friend of a friend overheard a foreign man with a beard saying to steer clear of town tonight..."? Well, Twitter is a breeding ground for these trouble-stirring fucktards. The one mercy is that at least they can't tweet in Comic Sans.

These rumours went hand in hand with stupidly thoughtless photoshop forgeries (London Eye in flames, anyone?) - and with exactly the same bleating caveat as you used to get with those shit-stewing emails of "Don't shoot the messenger!!! Just want people to stay safe." No, no you don't - you just want people to live in fear.

The nice thing was the way that Twitter self-policed these things very efficiently, and soon proved a great way of serving up news, comment, and even the odd bit of brilliant gallows humour . That said, if you're easily offended, Twitter ain't the place for you. Or maybe it is. As London got progressively sadder (and drunker) there was a noticeable increase in people loudly taking offence, forgetting that humour is frequently as valid a defence mechanism as leaping on a high horse.

While Twitter triumphed, the BBC News Channel had a peculiarly glum evening - as though everyone had gone home and was hoping we'd all go to bed, rather than staying awake, desperate to know our homes were safe. Instead we were treated to increasingly out of date footage... and then, madly, BBC News went over to Singapore. For an hour and a fucking half. While warehouses burst into flames and the violence spread across the country, BBC News pressed on gamely with their planned Singapore coverage, flapping around like a flaccid cock at an orgy.

We turned over to Sky who had thought to send out reporters to try and cover the catastrophe. A man called Mark (with good hair in a crisis) stood on the streets of Clapham asking rioters if they were happy with what they'd done. Back over on the BBC the rioters and looters were still being called "protestors", which seemed a bit hopeful. But, as someone said on Twitter, "BBC News so out of date they've just reported a fire on Pudding Lane".

Again, I keep mentioning Twitter. At about 2am people started talking of a clean-up of the streets. We staggered to bed, vowing to go along to the one in Camden.

As it turned out, the worst of the damage in Camden had been blitzed by street cleaners used to the weekend market. So we were sent to Clapham...

What followed was both wonderful and the dullest flashmob of our times, as over a thousand people gathered with brooms and bin bags ready to clean the shattered High Street. We waited... and we waited.... and we waited...

We were all VERY middle class, politely queuing to tidy up the chaos. We were so middle class that when Sainsbury's handed out free croissants, we applauded.

But... as the hours ticked by... it became more curious. We were, for example, penned in. It was very politely, discretely done, but penned in we were. We were there for the cameras to take pictures of - nice, jolly, lovely people trying to do their Ealing Comedy bit with brooms and brio. As an example of a community reclaiming the streets of a vibrantly diverse area we were all a bit white and middle class. Which was possibly a bit disappointing for the media who got consequently over-excited when a passing rasta Mum started shouting. She may have been screaming mad, but at least she didn't look as though she was a freelance web designer.

There was an upside to all of this... the totty. There was, after a while, nothing better to do than gawp at the sheer quantity and quality of the hot men of London who'd turned up with brooms and troubled expressions.

They were supplemented by the nearby branch of Fitness First who disgorged their trainers and resident muscle marys who joined the crowd, milling, pecking away at their iphones with pudgy fingers and furrowed brows. It was more crammed with hot men than gay pride. It also felt a bit wrong... which made it all the better.

In the end... Boris turned up. Like the crowd were a nice little backdrop for a photo op. Shortly after that the crowd were allowed to finally start cleaning up. Funny that.

But overall... it was a good thing. The right thing to do. And there's a nice feeling to being able to recognise my broom on the picture that went round the world.

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