Just before 9p.m. I go to my almost daily essential shopping run to Sainsbury’s Camden main store. It normally closes at midnight on weekdays but now it’s already closed. On the glass doors a notice: “… due to the incidents across London this store reserves the right to close earlier”… As I turn back to go to the nearest Sainsbury’s local convenience store I notice a couple of police officers aided by a shop’s employee packing the boot of a car with cases of bottled water…
I get to the convenience store via Camden High Street noticing that most bars and restaurants normally open till late are already closed or closing. After ten or so minutes inside, not yet made my mind on which bargains to go for except for a reduced price double pannacotta and caramel desert at 75p. I’m approached by an employee asking me to leave the store “because it’s closed”. Surprised, I argue: sorry but I’ve been inside this store for more than 10 minutes and when I came in I didn’t see any notice about the store’s earlier closure – it normally closes at 11p.m. He, a Black man, argues back: but the store manager has asked everybody out because we have to close immediately! I insist: then you shouldn’t have allowed me in the store when I came in!
He then calls the manager, an Asian man, who starts telling me that because of the riots they have to close now, to which I respond: then you should’ve put a notice outside the store about the change of closing time and not allow anyone in after that… He concedes that it should’ve been the right procedure but urges me to finish my shopping quickly and leave the store… So I did and with that seriously compromising my weekly budget.
As I leave, the doorkeeper, another Asian man, apologises: sorry for this today madam, maybe tomorrow we will be able to give you the normal appropriate treatment. I say: thank you, maybe tomorrow…
Whether it will be better or worse tomorrow I don’t know, and I don’t know how it was in London’s 81 either, but what I felt throughout the entire saga from Sainsbury’s Camden main store was a deep feeling of sadness and depression that I’d only experienced before in times of curfew in Luanda’s 80’s…
... So, as everybody knows by now things didn't get any better, quite the contrary: the rioting spread across London and various other cities in the country. It reached Camden High Street where a few stores (mainly dealing in digital technology) got the windows smashed and a number of others started boarding up their entire fronts.
All the local supermarkets, main and conveniences, normally closing at midnight, closed at around 3p.m.
Our local library, which normally closes at 7p.m. closed at 4p.m.
It's London closing indeed...
This afternoon, walking by a road in the Chalk Farm residential area, I see on the other side of the road a black man being questioned by two policemen. He takes a folder from his bag which he leaves on the pavement and starts showing them some papers and explaining what appears to be his entire life, or at least the last few months of it.
I stood on my side of the road staring inquisitively at them, my hands firmly on my hips, until one of the policemen notices me, returns my staring and then asks: is there anything of the matter? I return: sorry? He asks back: is everything ok? And I reply, while taking off my sunglasses: well, I don’t know… He asks again: is anything concerning you? I then engage: yes, I’m concerned about him, pointing at the black man in the middle.
By then the three of them had turned in my direction and the black man said to me, smiling: oh, thank you for your concern. To which I ask him: are you ok? He replies, crossing his arms on his chest: yes, my sister, I’m ok, everything is ok, don’t worry… So, I said then everything is ok and, relieved, moved on walking by my side of the road.
Meanwhile, elsewhere police cars, ambulances and fire brigade roaring sirens flare up around town and the times the air smells of something like burning flesh…
The local convenience store I was hurried out from the other day is now all boarded up but with a notice outside: we are open as usual…
It is a Asian-only staffed store where only recently I started to see a couple of Black employees. This is noteworthy as the overwhelming majority of local food shops, convenience stores and off licences are owned and/or staffed by Asians and the big chain supermarkets like Sainsbury’s increasingly have been outsourcing staff from the Asian trading community.
The relevance of this is that, as it happened in other initially race-based riots, e.g. Brixton, members of the Asian community tend to end-up being indirectly targeted ‘via their shops’… Many papers’ front pages today bring the story of three Asian men who died during the riots.
But things around town and country appear to start calming down.