London Riots: Greenwich Photojournal

I took a walk through East Greenwich into Greenwich proper earlier this morning, to see for myself what (little) impact the threat of last nights’ riots had made on the local community.

There were lots of tourists doing their usual thing, though there seemed to be less than usual. Many locals were walking to work or otherwise going about their business as normal, as if nothing had ever happened. There were a lot less young people about than I’d have expected – the late-teens and early-20’s age-groups simply didn’t seem to be about. Perhaps they’re all sleeping. Maybe Greenwich just isn’t a hip and happening enough place for young people on a nice summer day. It might be that they’re keeping a low profile for, erm… whatever reason.

Here’s some pictures and comments as I found them:

Trafalgar Road

I’d heard from many Twitter posts last night that pretty much every shop along Trafalgar Road was boarded or shuttered from yesterday afternoon onwards.  I was expecting a veritable ghost-town.  What I saw this morning was pretty much business as normal.

Business as normal on Trafalgar Road
All okay here…
Not sure if the Home Guide Estate shop is normally open for business, but the boards showed it very much wasn’t today!
Mr Chung’s Restaurant – guess I won’t be eating here anytime soon.
Not riot-related, but: Really? We’re having to temporarily tarmac stretches of pavement to prevent theft of slabs? And does this signwriter have a basic grasp on spelling or grammar?
Uh-oh. Sirens. Another ambulance (out of shot) followed the convoy.
Getting closer to the high street. Looks pretty normal to me, if a little quiet.

Greenwich Market

I grabbed a coffee in Greenwich Market – best Flat White I’ve had in quite a while, I might add!

On first glance, everything looked pretty normal – tourists and traders doing their usual things.  Nobody seemed to be selling much, though.
Then I walked to the other end of the market place, and it was near-deserted. I don’t remember seeing it this quiet before even on a weekday morning. Maybe readers can let me know if this is normal or not?
These guys were nervously taking boards down from their store. Quite what horrors they were expecting to find behind them, I don’t know.
Serious military-looking helicopters. Not at all an unusual sight here, but their presence did seem more menacing than normal.

Greenwich High Street

I honestly don’t know what I expected to find here, but I was surprised by seeing so many shops open for business. Life goes on, I guess.

Some shops were still taking their boards down.
Fewer people about as expected, but looking quite unaffected, except for that one last board on the Turkish cafe. (Thanks Edith for the correction!)
Amazing to see the patchwork-quilt effect on some store fronts. Clearly much of this work was done in a hurry. It’s not like shopkeepers usually keep a few boards around in case of emergencies!
A pharmacy lurks in the boarded shadows – a sign taped just by the doorway advertised business as usual.
More boarded up windows. Clearly the worry was mainly about the high street area itself rather than the surroundings.

Journey home – and reflections

I’m glad that the riots haven’t arrived yet. Conversations with fellow locals suggested a mood of incredulousness and defiance. Some are concerned for their families and livelihoods, others despair at the loss of a generation.  Tourists perhaps seemed more cautious than I’d normally experience, but were otherwise mostly unaware of anything having been wrong.

As I walked over to the train/DLR station, I noted the Junk Shop taking its boards down, apparently the last store to do so on its rank.
The station was quieter than I’d expected given the number of people generally going about their lives nearby. A tourist with her young son happily asked for directions, and was glad I took the time to help her work out which platform she needed. She told me the signs were too confusing and there were no staff around to ask! No change here on that front at least…

As I took my train home, I saw that David Cameron had announced that the events of this last few days apparently show “that there are things badly wrong in our society”. Well thank you Sherlock, I think a good number of us had already deduced that. Still, his speeches yesterday and today have come across to me as some of the first clear-talking I’ve heard in quite a while on any political issue in recent times. And I hope it continues, supported by  appropriate action to match.

Another lady stopped me for directions after I got off my train. We got talking. She was new to the area, having apparently moved here from Nigeria, via some other London suburbs along the way. She felt that the excuses given by those involved that they were bored were simply irrelevant – that they really were just excuses to kick off. She suggested that engaging young people in society, enabling them do something useful, and to contribute to the world around them would be good starts.

As for I’m not sure what I think. But I am encouraged by what I’ve seen today. This is not a suburb living in fear. It seems to me the boarding-up of yesterday and the keeping-calm-and-carrying-on of today stand in clear defiance to whatever might come our way.

Oh and one last gambit: Apart from the car I photographed going by earlier, I didn’t see a single policeman the whole time I was out, until a vanload of officers disembarked outside Westcombe Park police station.

Why I committed Facebook suicide.

So I pulled the plug on Facebook earlier today, which might seem a rather random action to those who follow me here and on Twitter. I gave no warning, I just went ahead and did it. Part of me feels a bit sad, and I’ll miss the ability to keep in touch with particular friends and family in the way that Facebook enabled. There are some things I won’t miss, as I’ll briefly explain.

Ownership of my information

So far as I can tell, WordPress currently only displays information about me that I choose to be there, when I choose for it to be there. I can delete and edit anything I like, when I like. I can move away from it to another site or system how and when I choose.

Twitter is perhaps a less-known quantity, even if it is currently my primary online social-networking tool. I can seek information when I choose, and it only displays on my profile what I choose to be there. Sure, people can mention me and I’ll appear on timelines in a different light than I might like. But in general I feel much more in control of the content I put there, and feel more able to trust what happens to that information.

Facebook has turned on many sharing features recently that have “leaked” things like contact information and relationships over the last few years, and each time has required me to jump through hoops to turn information feeds off to those to whom I’d rather remain just another face in the crowd. The news in recent days of facial recognition functionality being switched on without notice on the site itself was the final nail in the coffin. Yes, it’s only suggesting to people I know that I might be a person in their photo, but I’d rather have that functionality built into a computer operating system or web browser, based on information I’ve fed it, rather than have it as part of a bigger machine that can only make the functionality invisible to me.

On a more emotive level, there’s something more than a little creepy about a business that makes its money sharing and advertising to those who live their lives within reach of it.

Time is valuable

Various factors have come together recently that have conspired to help me learn to organise and use my time more effectively. Facebook was a time-sink for me, yet in the bigger scheme of things didn’t offer anything valuable in return.

Twitter has been a valuable resource for looking up realtime information about things happening around me, and has helped me engage with the local community in quite unexpected ways, especially when used in combination with blogs like this one.

WordPress has enabled some interesting conversations and interactions, and it seems that some posts have been informative to others facing similar situations to those I’ve described. I don’t claim to be a fount of all, or any knowledge – but my mistakes and lessons learned can help others in a way that status updates on Facebook just don’t hit.

Add to this that the Facebook interface had become generally feature-bloated and unreliable, especially on my phone, while things like email, blogs and Twitter carry on with their given functions with much greater efficiency and more tangible results.

Relationships are valuable

If I’m really set on keeping in touch with friends and family, then shouldn’t I be writing letters, picking up the phone, sending emails, sending photos or even arranging meets? Facebook is useful for all of these things in its way, but I don’t want such communications being owned by any company or entity other than myself and those I’m communicating with. When I send a letter, it doesn’t become the property of Royal Mail. They don’t sell copies of all or parts of the letters to advertisers. They don’t tell Amazon that they recently delivered an box of fluff to my door, so that Amazon can try to sell me books about that fluff.

And yes, it’s nice to be able to feel smug or angry about something and to share that with a select group of individuals, as I did so willingly on Facebook and will likely continue to do on Twitter. But I feel my relationships have suffered because Facebook was becoming the fount of knowledge about what I and those around me were getting up to, and I was willingly letting it stifle the very reason for those friendships and relationships to exist in the first place.

No, my personal relationships probably won’t get any better as a result of today’s decision, but at least I don’t have the ongoing Facebook conversations as the smug excuse for not spending time with or taking time for people.

So that’s the real killer issue for me – WordPress and Twitter have created real relationships with tangible output. Not always benefits, but experiences and genuine connections at some level. And that surely is what social media tools should enable?