London’s Burning

Canary Wharf  Magazine – 09/11 

One month on, Bel Trew looks at why the London riots happened…

Monday 8th of August: Croydon, Hackney and Clapham are on fire. The rioting, which started in Tottenham on Saturday when a peaceful protest against the shooting of Mark Duggan turned violent, spread across London. The looters have just swept through my area, Bow, a few local stores are in ruins and one shop owner has been beaten up.  The streets are deserted except for a group of hooded youths who were still hanging out on one of the targeted streets. There are no police, so I turn back quickly. The only pub that is open has its metal shutters down and is allowing its customers to smoke inside. As I knock on the door the proprietor says: ‘Only white faces? Good you can come in’.

What is going on?

Footage from the riots showed youth with looted items screaming ‘fuck the government’ at news cameras. One rioter captured on a mobile said she was ‘getting her taxes back’, another group of girls, who were found drinking the wine they had looted earlier, said they were ‘showing the rich we do what we want’ (BBC).

The situation had come a long way from the group of local residents protesting a young man’s death. It became a chaotic free-for-all with 11-year-olds carrying TVs out of shops and even businessmen grabbing phones and trainers on their way home.

With no cohesive group or manifesto and no one talking, the riots were written off as mindless violence committed by thugs. The cause David

Cameron said was a ‘slow motion moral collapse’ stemming from bad parenting, schooling and a culture of ‘criminality’.

I attended hearings at the Westminster courts, only two people were granted bail in two days. Those caught received heavy custodial sentences: one student was sent to jail for six months for stealing £3.50 worth of water from Lidl. The courts were working through the night. Journalists were stationed outside desperate for interviews with anyone involved, to find out why they did it.

I managed to find five rioters who risked being sent to jail to speak to me for the Evening Standard (The Boy Who Refused to Riot, 5September). They claimed there were different groups with contrasting agendas out during those five days. Behind the violence, they maintained, there were real grievances that were being expressed.

‘I finally found a reason’ said Tyrone, 17, to me for the article, ‘If we were to take an innocent person’s life, we’d be bought to justice but [the police] won’t. I was debating with my family, who tried to take the police side…. That is not the real truth, we know the truth.’

They talked about Mark Duggan as a symbol for all the disaffected youth they hang out with.  The riots, they said, were about venting frustrations with the politicians and police. They separated themselves from the looters, half of which they said were tempted opportunists, half of which were organized criminal.  They went as far as to identify themselves as ‘protesters’ whose only way of being heard was to become violent – ‘smashing stuff is acceptable’ confirmed Gregory, Tyrone’s friend as, he said, peaceful protesting is pointless.

The ‘broadcasts’ (BBMs) the boys say were sent out and forwarded from Sunday through all of Monday, calling for everyone to forget their backgrounds, to come out of their areas and meet at specified points.

The messages talked about the end of the ‘reign of the police’ – some mentioned Mark Duggan’s death.

At first the boys thought it was a joke, as it seemed impossible for a BBM to transcend the postcode war. Despite not being in ‘criminal’ gangs, the boys said they are still are bound by traditional gang rules: ‘We are separated by postcodes. If you go to someone else’s turf, their people will come and see what you’re saying.’

The groups out that day were predominantly angry young adults, the boys said. They talked about being targeted by the police from the age of 11 years old for fitting the stereotype as a young black male. This means, they said, they are stopped and searched several times a day, often by the same officer. They talked about budget cuts and ‘no hope for the youth’.

It is little known but the UK one the worst social mobility records in Europe, with four million children living in poverty. Margaret McCabe, Director and founder of Debate Mate, who works with disaffected youth, identified similar key issues.

‘The riots were a direct consequence of cuts, especially the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA),’ she explains, ‘the government made a policy error in thinking that the EMA wasn’t needed any more because most kids stayed on at school’.

As Margaret explains, the government cut the EMA believing that the financial shortfall could be plugged by continuing the parent’s entitlement to child benefits until they were eighteen.

Effectively the government relies on parents sharing their child benefits with their kids instead of paying the children directly. ‘This is an error. For families that live below the poverty line that money is committed elsewhere-they need it for food.’ Gregory pointed out to me he can’t afford his schoolbooks for college.

With university fees skyrocketing, there are no incentives for kids to stay on at school past sixteen and then they are no jobs if they do leave. ‘The problem have been building up. If you’re born with no hope, frustration, anger and discontentment breeds. So the shooting of Mark Duggan was like putting a match on a tinder box.’ Margaret explained.

To Margaret, the politicians don’t appear to understand the riots: ‘There is a disconnect from both sides. The problem is poverty is invisible in this country. You don’t realise it unless it impacts you in the form of a crime’. Certainly I live in an area with one of London’s most violent gangs, the E3 Bloods, yet Danny Boyle lives opposite me. Take Islington, this smart and wealthy banker area has the second highest child poverty rate in Europe.

‘Young people need skills to get out of poverty. If we blame parenting and schooling this will cost billions to turn around, there has to be a more pragmatic way of dealing with it. At Debate Mate we tried to find a cost effective way of doing that, with something you could bolt on to the curriculum – we came up with debating. Peer-to-peer mentoring and teaching verbal intelligence has proved to be successful.’

The behaviour of the rioters and looters was criminal, unjustified, wrong and those responsible should be punished. However it is important, and not mutually exclusive, to recognise that these social problems do exist and contributed to the outburst of violence. We should not allow the riots to encourage further prejudice against racial minorities or to widened the class gap.

Those caught are receiving considerably longer custodial sentences for their crimes because their actions were committed in the background of public disorder but how can sending a student to jail for six months for stealing some water help?

We need to be less reactive and go back to the roots of the problem. More programs like Debate Mate are needed to supplement the shortfalls of our education system – to ensure that the disaffected youth realise that where you were born doesn’t dictate your whole life. Perhaps if we can help the rioters truly recognise this, London won’t burn again.

 www.debatemate.com All names have been changed.

London Rioters Interviewed

The Boy Who Refused to Riot

Bel Trew
5 Sep 2011, Evening Standard

Five teenage boys are sitting on a park bench in east London. Most of them are wearing hoodies and hiding their faces. They look intimidating, the kind of group you would normally cross the street to avoid.

These boys, four of whom were involved in the London riots which took place exactly one month ago, want to give their side of the story, despite the danger of being caught by the police. They are taking a huge risk: very few perpetrators have been bailed and most are receiving lengthy custodial sentences. No one is talking.

Their friend Dangelo has convinced them to speak. Dangelo, 17, is a former gang member whose school sent him on a peer-to-peer mentoring scheme called Debate Mate last year in an attempt to turn his life around. It worked: Dangelo is preparing to study law and has a job. He is the only one in the group who didn’t riot.

Two of the group, Tyrone, 17, and Gregory, 16, are nominated as spokesmen.

Tyrone explains what happened on the evening of Sunday August 7, as the boys watched Brixton kick off on the news.
“The first broadcast [BBM] my mate received was Monday early morning 3am. We were together and it said something like every endz [areas] forget the postcode, we are united and meet at a specific local area. We thought it was a joke, it didn’t sound realistic.”

Tyrone and his friends ignored the message but the next day riots spontaneously started in the Hackney area “at about 5pm”, Tyrone explains.

The “broadcasts” were still being forwarded by people around London. Gregory’s friend received the same message at about 7.30pm Monday.

“My friend told me he wanted to go,” explains Gregory. “We got there [Hackney] about 8pm. There was a big parade of people through the street, they had already gathered and started to riot.”

Tyrone was in the same area. “There were loads of people smashing cars up already and shops like Argos, Currys, mobile stores. Policemen were being chased in opposite directions.”

Even though it was two days after the Tottenham disturbances, both boys claim the riots were directed towards the police because of Mark Duggan‘s death: “Everyone was thinking about Mark Duggan, that’s what I was thinking about, an innocent boy’s life. We were angry and frustrated with the Government,” says Tyrone.

“People were shouting that the police need to pay for what they’ve done,” confirms Gregory. “Because of the loss of another life, some were saying the reign [of the police] has to end today.”

The groups of people were varied: “There were white, black, Asian people – I saw businessmen join in. It wasn’t just one race or set of people,” says Tyrone. However, the rioters were predominantly young: “Mostly it was pissed-off teenagers, I only saw a few adults,” says Gregory. The youngest person both Gregory and Tyrone encountered was around 11 years old. “I saw a little kid with a TV running down the street,” Gregory confirms.

There were hundreds of people in this riot, mostly local to the area. “I bumped into people I knew,” says Gregory. But apart from meeting in the same area, nothing was organised: “We were just there at the time and angry, so everyone went mad,” explains Tyrone.

“I was smashing windows, like shop fronts and kicking things over, but I didn’t set anything alight. We’re not stupid, we’re not going to burn down our whole community because we’ve got to live here afterwards,” says Gregory. “In the distance I saw people burning a car.

“The focus was to get revenge on the police, not to harm any civilians; people care about our area – I don’t think the Croydon people do though.

“I was targeting the big franchises like McDonald’s. They’ve got insurance on their places, so they could be rebuilt,” he adds.

The scene was “chaos”, Tyrone says, “Lots of people were running away, trying to get away from the madness. People were shouting because their cars, their windows or their businesses were being destroyed. But the majority of the people that were there were getting involved.”

The police were quickly overwhelmed. “The police like to outnumber people and because they were outnumbered for once, they were scared,” says Tyrone. “They were just standing there watching the rioting happen.”

“I saw one guy phone the police to help stop people stealing from his shop, they said they didn’t have enough officers. The shopkeeper couldn’t do anything. Police officers doing nothing about it,” says Gregory. He describes another scene where rioters confronted the police: “I saw a group of guys fighting the police, pushing their riot shields back, they were throwing beer cans and rocks. The guys were shouting quite violently so I ran away.”

“The police vans and cars were getting destroyed,” Tyrone confirms. “I smashed up police cars because there wasn’t any local police station. I threw a few stones and bottles – loads of stuff was getting launched. The police were hiding behind the vans seeking cover.”

The looters followed the rioters. “I was in the front,” says Gregory. “When I turned back I saw people running into stores. People were looting after the rioters had broken windows. I asked, ‘What are you doing, that’s not rioting?’ They wouldn’t listen to me. There was more than one type of people out there,” he continues. “I didn’t steal anything. My mum brought me up better than that. People were using the opportunity to take free things. Some were clearly criminals.”

Tyrone also makes the distinction between the rioters and the looters: “Looting was pointless. Small-time businesses shouldn’t pay the price for something the Government did.”

The boys say “two different types were stealing … ‘organised criminals’ and ‘idiots'”. Some were opportunists, others, Tyrone explains, “came out just because they knew there was going to be a riot in this area and it’s their chance to make their money and go. Those people had vans.”

But the majority fell into the idiot category. “Look at what was looted: trainers, BlackBerrys,” Gregory explains. “If you wanted to make money you would have taken the tills. They went to Tesco and took bags of rice.

“I know kids whose mums drove them to the areas and told them what to steal,” he adds. Tyrone had people calling him to put in clothes orders. “You can tell the looters,” they said. “They were the ones posing in front of the news crews.”

“There was a guy who just wanted a Lyle & Scott T-shirt, stole it and went home,” says Tyrone. “But then another guy has at least £1,000-worth of trainers in his bedroom and he plans to sell them. From talking to looters I know it wasn’t for any political reason, that was the rioters’ job.”

Both Tyrone and Gregory say this was not mindless violence. “Peaceful protesting is pointless. What do the Government care? All you’ll get from protesting is a consideration. Rioting means they’ll get the message a bit quicker,” Tyrone considers. “I think the word is ‘publish’, we’re bringing a message to the Government, that we will fight back.”

“We were people protesters who switched to being rioters,” Gregory concludes.

All the boys come from single parent households. “We don’t see my dad – I don’t remember him,” says Tyrone tentatively. He lives alone with his mum in a council flat: “My mum is sick, she can’t walk so she can’t work, we all get on well, I respect my mum.” He is the main carer and emotional support as his siblings, who are older, have all moved out. “Sometimes there aren’t all the necessary funds all the time but we’re just like any working-class family, everyone is struggling,” he adds.

Tyrone was excluded several times from primary school for fighting. At school, he says, there are a lot of children with issues: “It’s not just normal problems, there are kids with anger management issues and that have experienced child abuse. A lot happens to children who live in an underprivileged community where the Government aren’t helping.”

Gregory also lives with just his mum in a council house. His mum works but Gregory will not talk about his father: “My mum manages, we don’t give her much trouble, she’s strict but fun.”

Gregory, who wants to be an aerospace engineer, has just finished his GCSEs and got “a few As, Bs and Cs”. The boys say Gregory is a good student, “I am well-behaved, but sometimes the teachers say I’m too smart for my own good.” Like all of them he has got into fights at school but has never been excluded.

Tyrone wants to go to university and eventually set up his own business so he “can give my kids something I don’t have, so they don’t have to struggle”.

“It’s harder if you are a young black male, they stereotype us a lot,” Gregory says. “Once you hit the age of 10 or 11 you start looking and fitting the part of this person that the police officers are looking for, who carry knives and weapons.” To these boys it’s not surprising that there were children on the streets the night of the riots.

“I see a lot of discrimination,” Tyrone says. “We get stopped [and searched] several times a day [by the police]. Even if you have the report paper proving they have already searched you.” “Even,” adds Gregory, “if it is the same officer.”

“We have to live in these communities but the police just come and patrol here,” says Tyrone. “The police only talk to the snitches, they don’t talk to the communities.”

They compare knife scars but, aside from Dangelo, none of them has been in a “criminal” gang. It is important to get the distinctions right. A gang, Gregory explains, is a loose term: “A group of more than four boys is classified as a gang. A gang is just a label they [the police] have slapped on us.”

They instead talk of “communities”, which include everyone in their geographical area. Gregory clarifies: “We live in a multicultural community that is labelled a gang. Everyone has respect for each other within it, which is why we don’t harm each other. If someone from another area has a vendetta against us, the logical thing is to provide self-defence which may result in a violent action.”

To the boys, the riots were specifically about youth issues: “Adults don’t feel the need to get involved because they don’t know how we are living it,” Gregory explains. “At the moment we’re being shunned by the community because the media are saying the youth are bad. TV shows like Skins depict us as drug users. The Government calls us gang members.”

“There is nothing for us,” Tyrone sums up. “How are we supposed to get a job to afford anything, when we can’t afford education in the first place now?”

“They need to stop taking away from the future generations. The first thing that went in the budget cuts was our education, our university, our Educational Maintenance Allowance. I can’t afford my books for college now,” Gregory adds: “I feel like the Government has doomed us to living the way they want us to.”

However, the boys do feel remorse. “I feel sorry for the people whose houses and business were trashed,” says Tyrone. “Now that everything has calmed down, it’s good it’s back to normal.”

All names have been changed

 

Dangelo’s story: I’ve realised you are not tied to the life you were born into

Dangelo, 17, is a hero among his friends. A former gang member, he has knife scars on his legs, admits to committing robbery and was sent to a correctional facility at 14 for a violent offence. As a final resort, his school chose to send him to peer-to-peer mentoring scheme Debate Mate.

It worked: Dangelo has debated at the House of Lords, is preparing to study law and now has a job with Debate Mate. While his friends were rioting, Dangelo, who lives in a council house with his mum, was at work.

“A few years ago I didn’t have any options, I was excluded from school, it was years of fight on the street. Teachers always said I had potential but no one actually helped harness that.”

Debate Mate mentors are top university students who are national and world debating champions. Some have come through the Debate Mate programmes themselves.

The scheme teaches debating to children from impoverished inner-city schools. The results are staggering. They train more than 2,000 pupils a week across London, Manchester and Birmingham, with some of their star debaters going on to study at Oxbridge. There is a real need – the UK has one of the world’s worst social mobility records, with four million children living in poverty.

“Not being able to express yourself is frustrating,” says Dangelo, “I had anger management issues.” At Debate Mate he was taught verbal skills and communication. “I got confidence, especially when I started winning all the debates. It also taught me leadership and teamwork.”

“Debate Mate gave me a sense of understanding and community. There wasn’t just one mentor there, all of them actually cared for the young people.

“The mentors are all university age, so could connect with you on another level that your parents and your teachers couldn’t. To have someone like your mentor actually help you get there and believe in you was so important.”

Dangelo’s dad is not around, although he recently got in touch: “It’s kind of hard without a dad but you get used to it,” says Dangelo. “It made me stronger in a way.” Dangelo’s mum works and in Dangelo’s words “tries to do everything she can”. In his GCSEs he got an A in English plus a crop of Bs and Cs.

“I am disappointed with my friends for rioting, there are better ways for them to express themselves,” he says. He even had a debate with them about it, “but we couldn’t see eye-to-eye so we don’t talk about the riots any more.”

“My friends would definitely benefit from mentoring and learning debating skills. The riots weren’t a coincidence. If I hadn’t done Debate Mate I would have been a part of the riots but I’ve changed my outlook. I’ve realised you’re not tied to what you were born into.” debatemate.com


www.debatemate.com

The boy who refused to riot

Five teenage boys are sitting on a park bench in east London. Most of them are wearing hoodies and hiding their faces. They look intimidating, the kind of group you would normally cross the street to avoid.

These boys, four of whom were involved in the London riots which took place exactly one month ago, want to give their side of the story, despite the danger of being caught by the police. They are taking a huge risk: very few perpetrators have been bailed and most are receiving lengthy custodial sentences. No one is talking.

Their friend Dangelo has convinced them to speak. Dangelo, 17, is a former gang member whose school sent him on a peer-to-peer mentoring scheme called Debate Mate last year in an attempt to turn his life around. It worked: Dangelo is preparing to study law and has a job. He is the only one in the group who didn’t riot.

Two of the group, Tyrone, 17, and Gregory, 16, are nominated as spokesmen.

Tyrone explains what happened on the evening of Sunday August 7, as the boys watched Brixton kick off on the news.
“The first broadcast [BBM] my mate received was Monday early morning 3am. We were together and it said something like every endz [areas] forget the postcode, we are united and meet at a specific local area. We thought it was a joke, it didn’t sound realistic.”

Tyrone and his friends ignored the message but the next day riots spontaneously started in the Hackney area “at about 5pm”, Tyrone explains.

The “broadcasts” were still being forwarded by people around London. Gregory’s friend received the same message at about 7.30pm Monday.

“My friend told me he wanted to go,” explains Gregory. “We got there [Hackney] about 8pm. There was a big parade of people through the street, they had already gathered and started to riot.”

Tyrone was in the same area. “There were loads of people smashing cars up already and shops like Argos, Currys, mobile stores. Policemen were being chased in opposite directions.”

Even though it was two days after the Tottenham disturbances, both boys claim the riots were directed towards the police because of Mark Duggan’s death: “Everyone was thinking about Mark Duggan, that’s what I was thinking about, an innocent boy’s life. We were angry and frustrated with the Government,” says Tyrone.

“People were shouting that the police need to pay for what they’ve done,” confirms Gregory. “Because of the loss of another life, some were saying the reign [of the police] has to end today.”

The groups of people were varied: “There were white, black, Asian people – I saw businessmen join in. It wasn’t just one race or set of people,” says Tyrone. However, the rioters were predominantly young: “Mostly it was pissed-off teenagers, I only saw a few adults,” says Gregory. The youngest person both Gregory and Tyrone encountered was around 11 years old. “I saw a little kid with a TV running down the street,” Gregory confirms.

There were hundreds of people in this riot, mostly local to the area. “I bumped into people I knew,” says Gregory. But apart from meeting in the same area, nothing was organised: “We were just there at the time and angry, so everyone went mad,” explains Tyrone.

“I was smashing windows, like shop fronts and kicking things over, but I didn’t set anything alight. We’re not stupid, we’re not going to burn down our whole community because we’ve got to live here afterwards,” says Gregory. “In the distance I saw people burning a car.

“The focus was to get revenge on the police, not to harm any civilians; people care about our area – I don’t think the Croydon people do though.

“I was targeting the big franchises like McDonald’s. They’ve got insurance on their places, so they could be rebuilt,” he adds.

The scene was “chaos”, Tyrone says, “Lots of people were running away, trying to get away from the madness. People were shouting because their cars, their windows or their businesses were being destroyed. But the majority of the people that were there were getting involved.”

The police were quickly overwhelmed. “The police like to outnumber people and because they were outnumbered for once, they were scared,” says Tyrone. “They were just standing there watching the rioting happen.”

“I saw one guy phone the police to help stop people stealing from his shop, they said they didn’t have enough officers. The shopkeeper couldn’t do anything. Police officers doing nothing about it,” says Gregory. He describes another scene where rioters confronted the police: “I saw a group of guys fighting the police, pushing their riot shields back, they were throwing beer cans and rocks. The guys were shouting quite violently so I ran away.”

“The police vans and cars were getting destroyed,” Tyrone confirms. “I smashed up police cars because there wasn’t any local police station. I threw a few stones and bottles – loads of stuff was getting launched. The police were hiding behind the vans seeking cover.”

The looters followed the rioters. “I was in the front,” says Gregory. “When I turned back I saw people running into stores. People were looting after the rioters had broken windows. I asked, ‘What are you doing, that’s not rioting?’ They wouldn’t listen to me. There was more than one type of people out there,” he continues. “I didn’t steal anything. My mum brought me up better than that. People were using the opportunity to take free things. Some were clearly criminals.”

Tyrone also makes the distinction between the rioters and the looters: “Looting was pointless. Small-time businesses shouldn’t pay the price for something the Government did.”

The boys say “two different types were stealing ‘organised criminals’ and ‘idiots'”. Some were opportunists, others, Tyrone explains, “came out just because they knew there was going to be a riot in this area and it’s their chance to make their money and go. Those people had vans.”

But the majority fell into the idiot category. “Look at what was looted: trainers, BlackBerrys,” Gregory explains. “If you wanted to make money you would have taken the tills. They went to Tesco and took bags of rice.

“I know kids whose mums drove them to the areas and told them what to steal,” he adds. Tyrone had people calling him to put in clothes orders. “You can tell the looters,” they said. “They were the ones posing in front of the news crews.”

“There was a guy who just wanted a Lyle & Scott T-shirt, stole it and went home,” says Tyrone. “But then another guy has at least £1,000-worth of trainers in his bedroom and he plans to sell them. From talking to looters I know it wasn’t for any political reason, that was the rioters’ job.”

Both Tyrone and Gregory say this was not mindless violence. “Peaceful protesting is pointless. What do the Government care? All you’ll get from protesting is a consideration. Rioting means they’ll get the message a bit quicker,” Tyrone considers. “I think the word is ‘publish’, we’re bringing a message to the Government, that we will fight back.”

“We were people protesters who switched to being rioters,” Gregory concludes.

All the boys come from single parent households. “We don’t see my dad – I don’t remember him,” says Tyrone tentatively. He lives alone with his mum in a council flat: “My mum is sick, she can’t walk so she can’t work, we all get on well, I respect my mum.” He is the main carer and emotional support as his siblings, who are older, have all moved out. “Sometimes there aren’t all the necessary funds all the time but we’re just like any working-class family, everyone is struggling,” he adds.

Tyrone was excluded several times from primary school for fighting. At school, he says, there are a lot of children with issues: “It’s not just normal problems, there are kids with anger management issues and that have experienced child abuse. A lot happens to children who live in an underprivileged community where the Government aren’t helping.”

Gregory also lives with just his mum in a council house. His mum works but Gregory will not talk about his father: “My mum manages, we don’t give her much trouble, she’s strict but fun.”

Gregory, who wants to be an aerospace engineer, has just finished his GCSEs and got “a few As, Bs and Cs”. The boys say Gregory is a good student, “I am well-behaved, but sometimes the teachers say I’m too smart for my own good.” Like all of them he has got into fights at school but has never been excluded.

Tyrone wants to go to university and eventually set up his own business so he “can give my kids something I don’t have, so they don’t have to struggle”.

“It’s harder if you are a young black male, they stereotype us a lot,” Gregory says. “Once you hit the age of 10 or 11 you start looking and fitting the part of this person that the police officers are looking for, who carry knives and weapons.” To these boys it’s not surprising that there were children on the streets the night of the riots.

“I see a lot of discrimination,” Tyrone says. “We get stopped [and searched] several times a day [by the police]. Even if you have the report paper proving they have already searched you.” “Even,” adds Gregory, “if it is the same officer.”

“We have to live in these communities but the police just come and patrol here,” says Tyrone. “The police only talk to the snitches, they don’t talk to the communities.”

They compare knife scars but, aside from Dangelo, none of them has been in a “criminal” gang. It is important to get the distinctions right. A gang, Gregory explains, is a loose term: “A group of more than four boys is classified as a gang. A gang is just a label they [the police] have slapped on us.”

They instead talk of “communities”, which include everyone in their geographical area. Gregory clarifies: “We live in a multicultural community that is labelled a gang. Everyone has respect for each other within it, which is why we don’t harm each other. If someone from another area has a vendetta against us, the logical thing is to provide self-defence which may result in a violent action.”

To the boys, the riots were specifically about youth issues: “Adults don’t feel the need to get involved because they don’t know how we are living it,” Gregory explains. “At the moment we’re being shunned by the community because the media are saying the youth are bad. TV shows like Skins depict us as drug users. The Government calls us gang members.”

“There is nothing for us,” Tyrone sums up. “How are we supposed to get a job to afford anything, when we can’t afford education in the first place now?”

“They need to stop taking away from the future generations. The first thing that went in the budget cuts was our education, our university, our Educational Maintenance Allowance. I can’t afford my books for college now,” Gregory adds: “I feel like the Government has doomed us to living the way they want us to.”

However, the boys do feel remorse. “I feel sorry for the people whose houses and business were trashed,” says Tyrone. “Now that everything has calmed down, it’s good it’s back to normal.”

All names have been changed

Dangelo’s story: I’ve realised you are not tied to the life you were born into

Dangelo, 17, is a hero among his friends. A former gang member, he has knife scars on his legs, admits to committing robbery and was sent to a correctional facility at 14 for a violent offence. As a final resort, his school chose to send him to peer-to-peer mentoring scheme Debate Mate.

It worked: Dangelo has debated at the House of Lords, is preparing to study law and now has a job with Debate Mate. While his friends were rioting, Dangelo, who lives in a council house with his mum, was at work.

“A few years ago I didn’t have any options, I was excluded from school, it was years of fight on the street. Teachers always said I had potential but no one actually helped harness that.”

Debate Mate mentors are top university students who are national and world debating champions. Some have come through the Debate Mate programmes themselves.

The scheme teaches debating to children from impoverished inner-city schools. The results are staggering. They train more than 2,000 pupils a week across London, Manchester and Birmingham, with some of their star debaters going on to study at Oxbridge. There is a real need – the UK has one of the world’s worst social mobility records, with four million children living in poverty.

“Not being able to express yourself is frustrating,” says Dangelo, “I had anger management issues.” At Debate Mate he was taught verbal skills and communication. “I got confidence, especially when I started winning all the debates. It also taught me leadership and teamwork.”

“Debate Mate gave me a sense of understanding and community. There wasn’t just one mentor there, all of them actually cared for the young people.

“The mentors are all university age, so could connect with you on another level that your parents and your teachers couldn’t. To have someone like your mentor actually help you get there and believe in you was so important.”

Dangelo’s dad is not around, although he recently got in touch: “It’s kind of hard without a dad but you get used to it,” says Dangelo. “It made me stronger in a way.” Dangelo’s mum works and in Dangelo’s words “tries to do everything she can”. In his GCSEs he got an A in English plus a crop of Bs and Cs.

“I am disappointed with my friends for rioting, there are better ways for them to express themselves,” he says. He even had a debate with them about it, “but we couldn’t see eye-to-eye so we don’t talk about the riots any more.”

“My friends would definitely benefit from mentoring and learning debating skills. The riots weren’t a coincidence. If I hadn’t done Debate Mate I would have been a part of the riots but I’ve changed my outlook. I’ve realised you’re not tied to what you were born into.” debatemate.com.

27 Stresses

Since one of our generation’s most troubled divas Amy Winehouse was found dead in her Camden apartment, international News channels exploded with talk of the 27 Club: the macabre trend of world famous musicians dying at this age. Unable to keep up with her lifestyle, much like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison who all died at the same age, Amy appeared to have burnt out.

But 27 Club is not just a dark twist of fate reserved for the rich and infamous. Scientific research proves that twenty-seven is a hard year for all of us. No longer in our freedom years and racing towards our thirties, this in-between age often brings with it confidence crisis’s, soul-searching and discomforting change.

Certainly as I approach the dusk of my 26th year, I wonder how the hell I got here. I’m terrified of successful people born in the Nineties (they’re CHILDREN), I nervously make Stalin-esque five year ‘life goal’ plans or just sit in bathrooms giving pep talks to mirrors. I’m right to be worried. If this transition, dubbed the ‘quarter-life crisis’, is not handled properly it can lead to disastrous results: it is no coincidence that the peak decade for suicides is the twenties.

Why? The most obvious change is a medical one. Twenty-seven signals the start of old age. According to research done at the University of Virginia, our mental abilities peak at twenty-two and then show considerable decline from twenty-seven onwards. Professor Salthouse, who lead the study, found that our speed of thought, reasoning and visual puzzle-solving ability all begin to deteriorate at this point. We simply can’t keep up with those a few years younger.

Mental decline is matched by a physical one. Twenty-six is statistically our physical peak. In fact, the average age to break a world record is 26.1. A recent study of over a 1000 athletes at National Institute of Sport, Performance and Expertise in France, showed that past twenty-six there is an irreversible downturn in our abilities. Unless you like swimming, then you peaked at twenty-one.

These two physical factors blend with the social malaise of being an inbe-twenty (you see what I did there)? These are the years of the quarter-life crisis with the ill-fated twenty-seven in the eye of the storm. ‘The key risk age group is the twenties,’ explains Dr Oliver Robinson at the University of Greenwich who has recently published a study into the phenomenon of the ‘quarter life crisis’.

“The problem is you may have reached your physical and mental peak before twenty-seven and have adult responsibilities but you’re not completely socially and emotionally mature. That sense of dissonance can be quite anxiety provoking. It’s the age of the adult-child. The combination of a fierce job market, a rise in multiple part-time jobs, bigger student debt and soaring living costs is making our twenties more difficult.

On average, we won’t own a house until we’re thirty-eight. Around 60% will rely on our parents financially until we’re forty. With the longest working week in the EU, the quarter-life sufferer has less time to find meaningful relationships and even if we do, a third of us are still living with Mum and Dad, so good luck making that go anywhere. Let’s face it, 27 is also a career milestone. After six years, the novelty of being a ‘proper’ adult in the working world, with your own business card and email signature, wears thin. At 27, you’re in for the long haul. Added to this, we’ve got to maintain a public persona of successful fabulousness via Facebook and Twitter.

For me, the signs that the big ‘two seven’ is looming on the horizon have begun: my Young Person’s Rail Card runs out in a few weeks. But I doubt I’ll go with a rock’n’roll bang like the Club 27 lot. I can’t deal with the hangovers and I can’t afford it.

Snow Patrol

‘That was the Holiday Inn,’ explains Ewan pointing to a tower block pockmarked with bullet holes, its floors gauged out by bombs. In its prime the Holiday Inn was on the front line of the Lebanese Civil War (1975 – 1990) and home to the hacks reporting on the action. It is still one of the tallest buildings on the Beirut skyline.  Busy new developments crawl at its feet but the skeletal hotel has been left as a reminder of Lebanon’s dark past.

Beirut is having a second renaissance. Last time I visited in 2003, Lebanon was rising out of the ashes of civil war and being rebranded as the party central of the Middle East. This rebirth was short-lived, as Israel attacked in 2006 and the city was buried in conflict again.

Five years on and Beirut is bouncing back. The Guardian voted it the hottest destination of 2010 and Tatler couldn’t contain its excitement when the Four Seasons opened last year. You can see why.

A bustling metropolis, Beirut boasts top-notch nightlife, luxury hotels and designer shopping all on the edge of the Mediterranean. Impossibly well-dressed women sweep down the cobbled streets of Gemmayzeh (the Lebanese love child of the King’s Road and Mayfair) with nannies and children in tow.  Teenagers ooze out of sparkling 4WDs on their way to Centrale, Myu or Sky Bar, where Cristal champagne is rumoured to cost $10,000 and dancing on tables is a must.  Typically the people here will speak three languages in one sentence, in this order: French, Arabic then English. This is no Dubai.

‘The guys act like rock stars, the girls like models”, explains my Lebanese friend, on a night out at the raunchily named ‘Behind The Green Door’. The city is made for posers and there is no better place to pose than on the slopes. Lebanon is one of few places in the world where you can ski in the morning and beach (and botox) in the afternoon.

The ski slopes are just one hour outside of Beirut. As you crawl up the mountainside, the giant French villas morph into wooden chalets.  Snow sidles up to the road, appearing from nowhere. Before you know it, you’re driving through a winter wonderland.

Skiing in Lebanon, like many things here, is a residue of the French mandate.  The French introduced the sport in the 1930’s when they set up a makeshift army ski school in the now privately owned Cedars resort.  Skiing didn’t take off at first because of the lack of ski lifts. It was snow-joke (apologies): until the ’50s the powder-hungry had to trek up the mountains in leather boots or on a donkey. You could squeeze in just a handful of runs a day.

There are now six resorts with a final one in development (complete with high altitude golf course). The Cedars continues to be the most iconic with breathtaking views and untouched upper-slopes.  However, if you’re looking for Lebanese luxury: Mzaar is your destination.

At the heart of Mzaar is the InterContinental resort. An orgy of five star chalet apartments, the InterContinental Mzaar has its own private slope for the true ski-poser. It also houses the Lebanese Al Hor Tent restaurant where food is so authentic they get it from the local Bedouin.

Après-ski is very important. The best night out changes month to month, depending on what the Beirut OC decides is ‘the’ place to be seen. How they co-ordinate I have no idea, but flock mentality is big here. I was assured the igloo-shaped, L’Igoo, and largest wooden construction in the Middle East, Rikky’z, were the latest favourite haunts. No doubt my next month, this will be old hat.

Skiing in Lebanon eerily echoes it’s French ancestry. The ski-slope junction at Mzaar is a boutique version of Les Trois Vallées. You’ll find cheese fondues and Cassoulet Toulousain at the ski-lodge-esque Montagnou restaurant, the local vineyards in the Beqaa valley (an unusual mix of vines and Hezbollah) make excellent fine wines and crews of ski-schools babble away in French.

But it’s the subtle differences that make skiing here fun. You can order a shisha with your chocolat chaud or visit the stunning Roman ruins of Faqra in the afternoon. The slopes aren’t nearly as crowded and make-up on piste is allowed, if not encouraged. Best of all, for the reluctant skier like myself, you can potter up for an afternoon, fall over lots and descend back to cosmopolitan chaos in time for happy hour. Fabulous stuff.

Beirut is a fascinating city because of its contradictions. What other capital endures 31 years of on-off conflict and then becomes party central for the glitterati elite? One of the most glamorous hotels in the city, Le Gray, overlooks Martyrs’ Square and Hariri’s mosque: both stark memorials to recent bloody events.  You barely notice the heavily armoured vehicles guarding checkpoints throughout the city, as your eyes are diverted by the sparkly row of designer shops and the Mario-cart driving. BO18, one of the hippest clubs in the city and a definite must-see, was built on the site where they threw the bodies during the civil war. The architect, Bernard Khoury, reflected this by designing the club in the shape of a coffin. The mechanical roof opens like a tombstone.

The question is, will it last? Even this incarnation is not without hiccups: following a Hezbollah walkout, the government collapsed the week we returned home. But the Lebanese are a resilient bunch and right now they’re having a ball. I’m hedging my bets but I’ll venture Beirut is back on track.

Info

Behind the Green Door,Gemmayzeh Beirut

BO18, La Quarantaine, Beirut-  b018.com

Centrale restauratSaifi, Beirut – centralerestaurant.com

Myu Rue St. Antoine, Beirut

SkyBar, Biel complex, Beirut – sky-bar.com

 For details of all the bars, restaurants and hotels in the ski resorts please visit skileb.com. You can also book your holidays through SkiLeb.

Ghosts in the Machine

Monday morning, I log into Facebook. Up pops the familiar blue screen. On the corner of my newsfeed there is a little reminder that I haven’t spoken to Angela Lang in a while. It suggests that I reconnect. Angela Lang is my mother. She died over a year ago, after an eight-year battle with cancer.

This thumbnail picture of her makes me panic. I feel sick and it becomes hard to breathe, like being kicked in the stomach. Caught off-guard, I have had no time to prepare myself. I am reminded of the moment I realised I was sitting by a hospital bed looking at a corpse.

One year on, I can’t focus on the good memories, I’m stuck in a broken and ugly loop of her last week, when she was barely conscious. I hadn’t banked on how much her presence on the internet would upset me or how frequently it would appear. My mother signed up to Facebook to keep up with the younger students when she started an MA at Cambridge University in 2004. She was so confused by her profile that she set up two by mistake. It is unfortunate that I
am doubly exposed to Facebook’s insipid
memory lane of reconnection ‘suggestions’ and ‘photo memories’.

The internet is a difficult space for those who are mourning. We don’t realise how much of a digital mark we leave. Around 60 per cent of us use social networking sites, with one survey estimating we have seven online profiles each. My mother, who was not a prolific user of the internet, still pops up in GmailSkype has immortalised her as ‘offline’ in a white cross on a grey blob; and her BlackBerry, which I now use, keeps trying to send emails from her Yahoo account as if from the grave.

Social networking sites are waking up to this problem. Last year they started to publicise their ‘memorialisation’ policies in response to huge criticism from users who experienced similar problems to mine. Facebook spearheaded memorial profiles after a member of staff died and they faced the issue of what to do with his profile.

Friends or family have to provide a news-paper cutting or obituary before Facebook will accept a person is dead. Then the memorialised profile minimises the emotional damage created by an active account, by halting the suggestions or status update functions while still retaining the wall. It also protects the deceased by preventing anyone from logging into the account and accessing personal information. Effectively the profile becomes a headstone friends can scribble on and meet around, except it lasts longer. These profiles will be online forever.

‘Facebook can be positive – it’s a wonderful way of keeping my father’s memory alive,’ says Arabella Llewellyn, daughter of the Swinging Sixties socialite Dai Llewellyn who passed away last year. Six months after he died, she found a Facebook memorial page. ‘It was really sweet. I was bumbling around Facebook when I found a page dedicated to Dad. It is full of thoughts and wishes from so many people.’ Many of whom she didn’t know. ‘There were messages from pub owners in the Midwest saying, “We’ve got your hat pinned up on our bar.” ’ There are over 200 members of the page and some have added their own messages. Facebook, Arabella says, is the one place that can bring friends and fans together from all over the world to share memories.

None of the major social networking websites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, know how many of their users have been ‘memorialised’. All quote the same policy of ‘honouring the requests of close family members’, creating the memorials and leaving it at that. Nor is there an independent body collecting information on the dead profiles floating about the internet. The only litmus tests are websites such as mydeathspace.com. Its members link obituaries and news reports to MySpace profiles to find out which users are, in fact, dead. Since 2006 they’ve tracked around 14,000.

This does raise questions about online legacies. There is nothing written in inheritance law about ‘digital’ estates, which could include anything from personal emails to PayPalaccount details. Companies, such as Legacy Locker, offering online repositories for digital property that is ‘inherited’ after death, do exist. However, the topic is something that businesses have not grappled with fully. My siblings and I are not quite ready to ‘memorialise’ my mother. For some reason, shelving or deleting my mother’s profile is tantamount to killing her myself. While she is present in cyberspace, she is still interacting with the world somewhere. Maybe that’s why I haven’t got rid of herAmazon or eBay accounts – as if she’ll somehow be able to giggle at my next ridiculous purchase.

My mother’s blog is my favourite cyber-cenotaph. Notangelasashes.blogspot.com tracks her gruelling treatment schedule but also catches some incredible moments such as when the Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital caught fire. The alarms went off as she was about to start chemo, so she had a huge needle dangling out of her chest. ‘I thought it could only have been a toaster… but to my horror I saw the hospital was on fire,’ she wrote, before directing panicked traffic out of the building. I can see her, still impaled by the needle, bossing bewildered consultants about.

I also have my own messages. The week my mother died, we sat around her bed fidgeting. I needed something to do and so used her BlackBerry to email my friends what was happening. It became an hour-by-hour graphic live feed. I went into details of the tube down her nose, of how we were singing at her bedside, of the tumours bursting her belly and of playing Ella Fitzgerald aloud on our iPhones.

‘Once there was nothing else they could do,’ I wrote in one of the last messages, ‘the doctors handed us a leaflet called The Dying Patient. They changed her bed blanket from blue to red and stopped all the support systems.’ I sent the final email at 5pm, two hours before she died, begging for a miracle.

I’m grateful for these digital imprints that won’t go away. My memory of that afternoon is dream-like, the chronology all wrong. Re-reading these emails makes the events visceral and real again.

One month after my mother died, my siblings and I found ourselves writing to her on her Facebook wall, to remind her that we hadn’t forgotten and that we hoped she would sleep well. There is something bizarre about writing a deeply personal message to a webpage. Despite the fact that she was only a sporadic and somewhat bemused user of Facebook, it felt like I was talking to her. More so than standing with flowers at her grave. I like to think the wall posts reach her, even if she wouldn’t know how to reply.