Tag Archives: cycling

No Riot Here

Last night, I went for a cycle ride around the inner suburbs of Sheffield. On the way, I started tweeting about the everyday scenes I was seeing, and the fact that there were no riots, using the #noRiotsHere hashtag (I plucked the hashtag out of thin air: it turns out one of two people had used it earlier in the day, although not in Sheffield). You can see a collection of my evening’s cycling/noRiotHere tweets on Storify. Soon, other people started joining in, and by the time I got home #noRiotHere was trending in Sheffield.

A few people accused me of “trolling for riots” – most did it humorously, one or two seemed genuinely confused about what I was doing. So I’ll try to account for myself here…

First and foremost, I was going for a bike ride. It’s something I’ve done a lot recently (especially since getting my new bike), generally heading West from our house into the Peak District, the hills and moors around Strines and Bradfield. I’d already been considering taking a more urban ride, exploring some of the parts of Sheffield I hardly know, and I was running out of country lanes within easy cycling distance.

But I think what really galvanised me was the steady stream of rumours I’d been reading about incipient riots in Sheffield. As I follow a lot of people on Twitter and Facebook, and a majority of them are in Sheffield, I’d seen endless rumour and counter-rumour – in particular about civil disorder starting up on London Road. The excellent South Yorkshire Police twitter feed had been quashing these rumours all day, but I felt that some people would feel more reassured if they heard that someone they know had been there and reported back that all was peaceful.

And so I set off in the direction of London Road. My initial plan had just been to go there, check out the area, and then return home, but as I got closer my head started whirling with memories of other “riot-prone” areas people had been tweeting earlier, and as I felt like I could handle a much longer cycle ride, I decided to roam further afield. The idea for “#noRiotHere” literally came to me as I was cycling along (as is true of so many good ideas). I didn’t just want to give people the bare fact of “no riot here”, I wanted to emphasise the fact that normal things were going on, that people could and ought to make an evening of it, walk in the evening sunshine, go to the pub, treat it as a normal evening and not hide behind closed curtains. And so I started to tweet one mundane but beautiful thing that I saw in each suburb I passed through (admittedly I eventually started to tire of the mundane but beautiful, and resorted to the slightly comical instead).

I realised, of course, that to anyone outside Sheffield reading my updates, I could come across as insufferably smug; I thought (with apologies to all in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester and elsewhere) that this was a price worth paying. Civic pride breeds more civic pride, and I thought it better to try instilling some of this before riots started. Last night’s #steelcitynotstealcity/#steelnotsteal hashtags did the same thing. To be honest, I thought there was already enough pride in this wonderful city to prevent people from smashing it up (particularly while the city’s youth are still basking in the memory of the incredible and inclusive Tramlines festival). But how to know what other people think? This week I’ve heard, via Twitter and Radio 5 Live, many cries of confusion and disbelief from residents of the riot-hit cities; how are we to know until something kicks off whether our civic pride that “Sheffield is different” is justified or just hubris?

And finally, I wasn’t trolling for riots, and was 95% certain I wouldn’t find any, but I was prepared – at least inasmuch as I had a fast bike, a mobile phone, and my wits about me. If I had stumbled on some disorder, I would have informed the police if necessary, informed Twitter whether necessary or not (it’d be stupid to deny that I’d feel the slightest bit smug for sharing the news before anyone else, massively outweighed of course by sadness at unrest in my home city), and a small part of me hopes that I might have been able to mobilise a public tut-mob early enough to shame potential rioters into going home. A stupidly vain fantasy, of course, but I think we should all be defined by our stupidly vein fantasies.

As it turned out, I had a lovely cycle ride, got to see parts of this beautiful city which are normally hidden to me (including the most amazing view from Gleadless), had a bit of fun along the way, and spawned an idea which was proudly reported on Radio Sheffield this morning. Sorry to be smug (and fingers crossed that this isn’t hubris), but it was a good night for Sheffield.

The Zen Cycle-Route

Had planned to see Caroline and John play last night. As the gig didn’t start until 8.30pm, I had time to kill beforehand. Hung around in the bar at work with Niina for… too long, probably. Had 1 too many drinks, probably. I finally donned my cycling hear and headed for the gig around 9pm.

At least that’s where I tried to head. I found my way to Vauxhall OK, then checked the MapBlast! directions I’d downloaded to my Handspring earlier. I’d forgotten to include the bloody map, and the text directions were quite useless. Cycled around and around Vauxhall in ever-decreasing circles without ever finding the venue.

So instead, I decided to take the Zen route home. Headed off into South London, tacking from street to street like a demented sailing boat. I felt certain I was headed in the right direction, but before I knew what was happening (could it be that I blacked out while cycling for a while there?) I found myself at a crossroads on the South Circular, with Crystal Palace signposted straight ahead, Dulwich and Lewisham to my left and Clapham to the right. My rudimentary geography of South London told me that I had probably gone too far South. I took the East turn, towards Dulwich, and soon found a signpost to Dulwich Village. Never having seen our former prime-minister’s former home, I thought I’d spin off in that direction.

Dulwich Village was a bizarre anachronism – twee rurality dumped into the heart of London. It had the feel of Highgate Village or Petersham, wide gravel pavements edged with chain-linked white concrete posts and banking grass verges, neo-Gothic shopfronts and pubs spaced out by parks and footpaths. It seemed fairly naff, but at the same time reminded me of “Grandpa’s London” – Highgate Village, so self-assured in its high status that it’s not ashamed to be musty, dusty, fraying at the edges. Perhaps that was because I caught that time during a decline, but that’s how it always seemed to me. I prefer this kind of comfortable lazy affluence to the noveau-noveau riche need to showcase the latest polished clinical fashion in every aspect of their lives.

Dulwich Village gradually turned into Red Post Hill; they even have a hill here, like Highgate and Petersham and unlike most of the rest of London. Not a proper, Sheffield hill, but steeper than anything I had encountered in my last few weeks’ cycling. Does the money follow the landscape, or does the ground swell up wherever old money is to be found?

I emerged in Herne Hill, which sounds like it ought to belong somewhere in Suffolk, but was actually far more urban than Dulwich. I headed towards Camberwell (and almost back to Kennington, where this whole crazy adventure had started). At Camberwell Green, hunger finally got the better of me – despite having eaten a healthy dinner, the number of curry and chip shops passed on my route had exerted an irresistable pull on my stomach. I managed to save my conscience and my guts by sticking to houmus and salad, which I tried to keep in my mouth and off the floor while pushing my bike along Camberwell Church Street. I passed the gallery – was it really only today that Niina and I discussed this place, seems like lifetimes ago.

The landscape started to get familiar once again – unavoidable Peckham! Just as any random North London trip draws one into the unrelenting clutches of the Stoke Newington triangle, so visitors to the South of the river must be wary to avoid getting sucked in by the Peckham tug. I worked up enough centrifugal force to slingshot myself out of its evil grasp, and meandered safely again through New Cross, past the pub where I saw John when he played with the Revs all those years ago. Finally made it into the Greenwich one-way, up onto the Cutty Sark Gardens and down Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s wonderful Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Cycling down the (mile-long?) tunnel is strictly forbidden, so I felt rather nervous sitting on my back, shuffling along in front of a bunch of engineers who were doing overnight work on the lifts. Needn’t have worried – as I passed, one called a friendly “watch yourself at the other end mate, there’s a box up there”.

Emerging onto the Isle of Dogs, a clock stuck – I sat still and listened to the 11 bells while gazing at the night river skyline. From here the 3 miles or so back to Bow seemed like nothing compared to the distance I had already covered. One Canada Square watched over me, steaming benevolently, from Canary Wharf, while two towers alongside struggled to be the highest in Europe, but failed. An old man hobbled across the pavement in Canning Town, mumbling forgotten thoughts to himself. The flat door opened, I went in and shrunk into the bed, where I lay writing letter for the next hour before sleeping.