What Lies Beneath?

I live in East London where the headlines are not always terribly palatable. Compared to where I’m from in Norwich, where local news stands very often read things like ‘piglet missing’ or ‘thief steals box of chewing gum’ (serious and very real news from recent Norwich Evening News reports) the crimes are very grave and frequently involve murder as if it’s common place.

The thing is, I think I’m beginning to realise that it IS common place in London. I think I sometimes have this blinker about where I live and see it as leafy, friendly and middle class. Which it is of course, house prices tell that story well, but in London you just need to turn a corner for the atmosphere to be very different instantly and mixed in with the lovely and decent people where art work projects and plans for bicycle paths run prevalent there is an under current of the not so desirable. London’s like that where I’m not sure anywhere else is? My eyes were out on stalks once, on a trip in an ambulance to A&E when Jimmy had bumped his head at the church fete and the paramedic was telling me that daily he attends both stabbings and gun wounds in my area… I simply hadn’t noticed or perhaps I just didn’t want to?

A little over a week ago a crime was considered so bad where I live that it actually was reported nationally for once. I have to say, sometimes the fact that news of another body has been found floating down the Thames or a girl raped on a street in broad day light doesn’t see outside its own little patch is beyond me. I’m not saying that sort of thing couldn’t or wouldn’t happen in Norfolk but if it did and on the odd occasion that it has, it is news for months, remembered for years and talked about frequently. It would never be just flippantly ripped off the news stand to make way for a new, similar story a day later!

So what was this crime that DID make the headlines all over the country?

We were in Norwich visiting family and saw on the television that just a stones throw from where we live in London two young men had been murdered in their car. From reports I have read it seems that they were set upon by a whole gang of other youths. I read, but don’t know if it’s true of course, that their car was attacked with all sorts of knives and bats and the terrible result is that one died from stab wounds to the neck and the other died from shock, haemorrhaging and stab wounds to the chest. They were 21 and 19 years old respectively. Not really men in my mind but just boys.

Talk on the street has suggested people think it’s gang warfare. Unbelievable. At least it is for me. Perhaps I do live in this dire area where teens and young people kill each other over nothing but it doesn’t feel like that round here and the young people I meet and see on the streets are often kind and courteous, they smile at my children and make conversation. I find it so difficult to fathom that they could all hate each other so much over something so terrible that they might gang up and stab each other to death? But obviously this does happen, obviously this is a part of where I live and this is very real. I just don’t understand how it can be that’s all?

I walked past the crime scene a few days ago, I had no choice because of where I was going and as Florence saw the flowers laid in memorial by the victims friends and families, she bent down to smell them exclaiming how lovely they were. She didn’t know or understand and I wasn’t about to explain it to her either. There were lots of police present and she found that rather exciting and happy too as she smiled and said hello to the good guys! Both my children love to wave to a police man and it was very special to have so many to say hello to all in one place! She just thought it was brilliant and naturally didn’t give it a second thought as to why.

There were also groups of teenage girls huddled together crying and mourning their friends by the floral tributes to their young lives. I accidentally made eye contact so I smiled at one but she didn’t smile back. She glared at me, she was glaring at everyone. I caught a glimpse of the anger that must be surrounding what happened here. It was in stark contrast to see my tiny little girl so innocently looking at the flowers and these big girls with an anger in them I hope mine never comes into contact with.

But how did these big girls get that way, get so angry? And how did the gang who set upon the two young men in their car get to a point that they would want to do something like that in the first place? I kind of think to myself that it MUST be that they didn’t really understand the consequences? Maybe they wanted to be the big hard boys with knives but after bravado and egging on from each other they didn’t realise the result of using them would be this? Or am I just terribly naive?

Can it really just be a case of stereotype? Did they not have decent male role models? Were they not loved enough by their Mothers? Were their families so dysfunctional that they chose a life of violent crime as an alternative or did it just sneak up on them by getting in with the wrong crowd and how does that happen anyway? What, most importantly, about the families of the murdered two? If, and I don’t know so it is a big IF, if this was gang warfare, had the two victims done something in the first instance? Could it easily have been the other way round? We’ll never know I suppose.

I bet they were all quite dysfunctional in some respects but I also bet each family loved each other just as much as the rest of us love our children and I bet they never thought this would happen to their own, would remain a story on the news stands yes, but not come to their own doorstep.

I can’t help but think about the mothers. All the mothers in the situation; those that lost their boys that night in the car and those that lost their children who are responsible. Because they will be lost too, a lost and wasted life spent in prison for what might be a decision made as a terribly immature young person, cajoled and led astray by ‘friends’ perhaps? I’m not saying anything can make it right or can be forgiven but it is all still very sad and what happens to their mothers who love them still no matter what they did? How can they live with what has happened?

Quite a few arrests have been made and one of them was a 46 year old woman on suspicion of assisting an offender. I can only guess that due to her age she might have been a Mother of one of them? Could she have hidden something or washed clothes, might she have not spoken up? Did she just look a son in the eye and see blood on his hands, tell him not to tell her anything and wash his clothes? Who knows? Would I do the same, if it were my boy? I hope not but when your whole heart is wrapped up in your child how can you know what you would or wouldn’t do for them?

This woman isn’t very old, 12 years older than me… These boys responsible, one possibly her son, aren’t very old either, 14 years younger than me maybe? 20 years ago she might have been pushing a son in his buggy over the Wanstead flats to play groups every day, just as I do now. 20 years isn’t a long time ago, it probably feels like yesterday to her. She might have watched him dance and giggle and find joy in little things like snails on the path, sticks big enough to wave in the air and even flowers in the street laid for some poor soul who had died there because he was so little and so innocent that all he saw were pretty flowers to smell. Just 20 years ago and now today she might have seen him with blood on his hands, she might have tried to protect him because even though today he might have bad in him, 20 years ago he was just her baby. No matter how big or how bad he becomes he will always be that to her I would think.

Is it her fault? Maybe in part it is? I don’t know the answer to that one but I still feel sorry for her even if it is. I feel sorry that anyone has this to deal with. I feel sorry that anyone has this sort of life.

I don’t think it’s indicative of this area necessarily, lots of good things happen here. I don’t think if I bring my children up here they will end up in gangs and one day I will be deciding if I put the clothes in the washing machine and don’t say anything or worse…  I don’t in a million years think that but I wonder, did they? The mothers of all these people responsible for this one crime which DID make the national news?

Still, I can’t help but think, no matter how much I love living here and love this area, that instead bringing up my children where the local headline reads ‘Fire Station Burns Down Because Fire Fighters Couldn’t Get To Truck Inside Building’ might be a better prospect, a safer prospect perhaps. If nothing else this under current of violence won’t be on their doorstep. We may be bumbling in Norfolk and the firemen might not be able to put out a fire in their own station but a crime like this is something that I can’t imagine happening there, at least not regularly. And that’s the difference. London is dangerous and no matter how middle class an areas is dressed, how expensive it is to live in the streets here, London is a place where things happen like this and hardly anyone bats an eye. And perhaps therein lies the problem!

Bad things happen all over but in London they happen every day so it has become normal. It should never be normal, especially when somewhere is so beautiful and such a wonderful place to be for the most part as my little area is. We need to keep talking about the awfulness of things like this because we need our children to know that this will never be normal!

4 thoughts on “What Lies Beneath?

  1. It’s heart breaking on so many levels and thinking about that mother strolling through Wansted flats 20 years ago made me cry. Life is never cheap but sometimes it’s cheapened and some how we need to find a way to stop that. God knows how. x

  2. I love London. I really do, and I have always been fascinated by it. Every corner, every doorway, every building that tells a story, or harbours a secret. But you’re right, these secrets are becoming darker by the day, and London is becoming a notoriously risky and dangerous place to be. Where did it all go wrong? My mum grew up in Forest Gate and remembers it fondly as a friendly, safe, wealthy area – nothing like it is now. Such a shame. Love this post, Ruth. Really moving and has made me think about how a residential area can affect a child’s future so dramatically x

  3. The loss of a life should never be the norm, the loss of two at the hands of so many others so viciously is just horrendous. I just can’t even begin to imagine how everyone involved feels, I hope that there is a lot of remorse on those who killed. It’s all too easy for the yob mentality to take over with men of a certain age, and get carried away. I feel for everyone involved.

    I guess that London is made up of many little towns with a huge range in the socio-economic situations of everyone, but more concentrated. It’s very scary to think this is happening nearby.

  4. This is very scary and shocking. Living in Lincolnshire means that I do not see these types of things as an every day occurrence. I am sorry to hear that it is like that where you are. London is a huge place so it is only natural that there are many different types of people there but this still shouldn’t be the norm.

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