Picture the scene if you will, Brixton, 1981, there’s a riot. I remember the pictures on the telly; lots of youths throwing things at the police, lots of police hitting youths with sticks, lots of things burning. I vividly remember pictures outside of the ritzy cinema and the town hall opposite. Six years later when I left secondary school and moved to London, Brixton still seemed a strange and far a way place, as did most of London outside of the circle line. 20 years later, I have lived in Brixton and now class it as a familiar part of centralish London, rather than some far away suburb of myth and legend.
I wasn’t therefore in the riots, I have been in a riot mind, but the woman I met yesterday told me all sorts of tales of the kids she taught in Stockwell in the late 70’s and early 80’s. She told me about one instance when all the boys in her class were ignoring one of their cohort the day after one of the riots. When she asked them why she was told ‘because he’s greedy miss!’ apparently when the boys had gone a looting, a quaint local custom of VAT avoidance, they had only taken school uniforms, as that is what they knew their mums couldn’t afford. They were very clear that they only took one shirt each, but this one lad had taken 5. The moral affront of the boy beggars belief. I can just picture the scene, it must have been in Morleys, which is a sorry excuse for a department store on Brixton High Street, cars ablaze, police beating up the unemployed, bins hurled through windows etc etc etc, ‘just one shirt and one tie each lads then straight back to prep’. I think not, I bet they stopped off for some proper loot, sock garters, berets, tap shoes, that sort of thing.
The riot I was in was the poll tax riot of 1987 I believe or was it 1988. It was most surreal. I was meeting friends at a restaurant on Charing Cross Road called Le Renoir, no longer there, now a gay pub, (yes we wash everything by hand too). I got off the train at Charing Cross and to get on my way I had to squeeze through row after row of riot police. Walking up St Martin’s Lane, every shop window was smashed, cars were over turned and on fire, straight out of a tales of the unexpected, wiggly lady and all. So we arrived at the restaurant, and unfortunately re the riot we were about 10 – 15 minutes late. The stuffy nosed bitch, I mean the maitre de, said that due to our tardiness, she had given our table away! I faced her and said ‘my dear, there is a riot outside!’ and with that we all span on our heels and marched out. We finally found hospitality in the pizza hut on the other side of Cambridge circus. The dinner was most enjoyable and with the exception of the burning bins being thrown through the window, a pleasant and most memorable evening was had by all.
Further takes from yesterday include another story of one of her pupils. I shall leave it to her to tell this tale.
‘He was a very effeminate lad, big, loved singing - really scared people. He told me how he had been on the tube and it got stuck between Stockwell and Brixton.’
I asked ‘he didn’t decide to give them a tune did he?’
‘Yes, he loved doing Shirley Bassey you see. He said ‘miss I did them Goldfinger, all the actions’, they must have been petrified. He was just like a black Danny La Rue’
You couldn’t make this shit up, that’s the beauty of it all.