Here in the UK the news is that the news is about what happened 30 years ago. Government papers from 1981 have been released and we can see all the secret memos between ministers and know all the things we did not know at the time. 1981 was the year of the riots as all the major cities were swept by mob violence. In London huge fires burned that were clearly visible from Westminster. Mobs looted shops and houses. The Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher. Police constable L368 was an unknown poet called Oscar Sparrow, stationed at Brixton. One of the main bus routes was and is Railton Road. It was called locally “The Front-line” to denote it was a social frontier. It was never dull. In the picture above the poet is the second cop about to walk into a lamp post if he doesn’t pay attention. I never put on that uniform without feeling that I was in fancy dress.
I have several observations about civil disorder and rioting. It is exciting and terrifying in equal measure for both the good and bad guys. Everyone thinks they are the good guy. Despite all appearances, most people are just helplessly stuck in the middle. Nearly all these folk are poor and have very little themselves. After a while everyone wants it to stop. Then it stops and people turn up at the police station to say they found a wallet or lost their dog. It is not for unknown poets to pontificate on the politics or the social dynamics of inequality, race, unemployment and urban alienation. I could, but it would add nothing to all that has been said since and doubtless will be recycled when, inevitably, it will all re-run for a newer generation. If I were a modern day cop I would almost anticipate a mob throwing iPads, being filmed by officers with smart phones. Alternatively both sides would turn up with such an array of filming equipment to capture one another’s brutality that nothing would happen, except maybe a few aggressive zoom sequences.
I know I should not appear flippant about such serious affairs because people do awful things. There are rapes, murders, ghastly woundings and arson. I was far less of a revolutionary once I had sampled just a little of its flavour. A mob running wild is awesome, but if the batteries on the remote are low, manual control is bruising. The best rampaging mobs are on TV. Petrol bombs burn you. Large fellows with swords can make one very aware of one’s sphincter. 2012 approaches and one can sense certain straws in the wind. We never learn you know………
I was a cop because it was a job that I thought would give me stuff to write about. I loved Brixton and South London. It was a cacophony and a choir, a rhythm and a rag-bag. It was a fist in the face and a handshake. I wrote a poem at that time and it is in my collection “I Threw A Stone”
You can hear it here and read it below:
Red London buses
blood corpuscle bustle
past a drinking club
which is a terraced house
with fifty men,
one hundred whites of eyes inside.
Drinkers piss al fresco unperturbed
on pavements trod with butts of blow.
Dead cans of Red Stripe
barber pole along the dismal gutter.
Ragged Bee- Em- Dub-Yews cruise,
boozed bleached whore-cats
pussy sway to reggae beat
subliminal in chest and throat.
On a corner an ambulance.
White cop say
“How d’ it start?”
Black girl say
In the alley a trembling bitch
fucks a pack of sperm rage dogs.
A circling runt denied, accepts.
Sirens down the Brixton Road
announce aloud a further haemorrhage.
By Oscar Sparrow