Posted by: roamingolivia | August 23, 2011

Weirdest conversation about the riots so far

I was away from London during the riots a couple weeks ago. Today at lunch I discussed with a friend, who was also on vacation at the time, that it doesn’t really feel real that the riots happened. This is not to minimise any loss of property or life that was experienced here, but we often travel to places that have riots or revolutions (I was in Tunisia, of course), and so this just feels like going to one of those post-trauma places. But, of course, it’s different because I live here. And because most people are still wandering around asking “why”; there are no really convincing answers.

I talk to taxi drivers about these things – it’s good to have something to discuss with them, anyway. General, there are no good answers to “why”. This weekend, after an impulse-buy of a frame for my favorite poster that I have left unframed for at least 3 years (a poster from Mahmud Darwish’s funeral, which I picked up in Ramallah when I visited the week after he died), it became obvious that I needed a taxi to get home with a huge picture frame. I got in a car and had one of the weirdest conversations I’ve had with a London cabbie. He was making snarky comments about the names of the streets in my neighborhood (many are named after cities in Africa and other countries, which he treated with sarcasm), and I wanted to avoid the increasingly racist tone of the conversation.

I asked him what he thought of the riots. He said, “People just wanted to get free stuff.” I paused without saying anything for a minute, and then he followed this up with, “I can’t say much, though. I got a 50-inch flatscreen TV”. My eyes flicked up to the rearview mirror, to see if he was watching my reaction, or if he was joking, or if this was real. I don’t remember having a strong indication either way. “I was stupid, though. I forgot to steal the remote.”

The sentence hung in the air for several seconds. I had literally no idea what to say. I looked out the window and tried to think of something else to say. I still don’t really know if he was being serious, but it seemed like a strange admission from a white-haired, late-middle-aged, semi-racist London cabbie, but perhaps that says more about my own perceptions of the riots (that they were young people from lots of backgrounds) than the reality. There’s a lot to learn.



  1. I’m 90% sure that was a joke. If it had been in Liverpool, I’d say 100%.

  2. Sounds like a guy with a crass sense of humor, perhaps.

    Just read this today in the Economist:

  3. Are you sure you are using the word racist correctly? Certainly the Thresher taught you the difference between a sarcasic biggot and a true racist (i.e. those evil athletes!)

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