Last week there were four nights of rioting in London and other English towns and cities. I was shocked, but not surprised. The sense of incipient violence and a breakdown of society were high on my list of reasons why I left London and immigrated to the United States three years ago.
Among the casualties of the riots was 68-year-old Richard Bowes, a resident of Ealing, the west London suburb where I lived as a child and went to grade school and high school. He was severely beaten by a mob of young men, apparently because he tried to stop them setting fire to a large garbage can. Taken unconscious to hospital, it took police a couple days to identify him because the mob had stolen his wallet.
From media photographs and YouTube videos, I know exactly where the attack on Bowes took place. It was in front of what, in my childhood, had been the pet shop where my parents took me to buy a kitten. It is also just a few blocks away from the house where my 89-year-old mother still lives.
When I was visiting her earlier this summer, my mother acknowledged that Ealing, once described as "the queen of the suburbs," had changed over the years, and not for the better. But she refused to lay blame. As someone who had come to Britain in 1936 as a refugee from Nazi Germany, she remained fiercely patriotic and deeply grateful to the country that had given her sanctuary.
My decision to come to the United States had appalled my mother, who uses "American" as an adjective of disapproval. The "pull" factor had been my husband's good fortune in being offered a job here. The "push" part of the equation included a growing realization that our children were scared of living in London.
I had discovered that our daughter was travelling an extra two stops on the Tube, London's underground railway, and then a bus, so that she could avoid the more direct route because she feared being mugged.
Her two teenage brothers had each been mugged, several times, by groups of boys. On one occasion this happened right outside the local tube station. What was horrific was that adult men walked past, on their way home from work. None of them intervened, though a gang of youths had pinned my son against a wall and were rifling through his jacket and backpack, and it was obvious what was happening. Cowardice is the order of the day.
One of the major problems of England these days is drunkenness. On our small street, remodeled houses often sold for between $1.5 million and $2 million, and the residents included bankers and Tony Blair's chief of staff. But late at night we were often disturbed by drunks staggering down the road. In the morning, it was not uncommon to find vomit on the sidewalk. One night our eldest son came home to find a man who had walked through our front gate, up our path and was busy urinating by our front door.