I have managed to live in south-east London for the majority of my life without any problems. I have only once experienced the drama of being “partially” mugged when I was 16. It has stuck with me ever since, and I still recall the event as if it happened yesterday- a rather lanky ragamuffin (the types you see in inner city London these days), approached me outside the gates of Dulwich College, aggressively grabbed my shirt from the neck and asked if I had any money on me, and upon telling him “No, I’ll tell the police about this”, he pushed me to the ground with some force and simply left!; I am sure I must have been an easy target, especially while wearing the trademark stripy school blazer and straw hat!.
Apart from this incident, I don’t recall being in any sort of trouble/danger whatsoever. However, I have heard quite a number of negative remarks about East London, and how rough the area is. I got a first hand taste of this “rough” side to the East End earlier this year when I rented a room just close to London City Airport and Custom House. I was not made aware that the area in which I rented my accommodation was the rough side and just across the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) on the other side was the posh side.
The rental price looked attractive and the area on the whole seemed “OK”- it wasn’t your average “Ramsey Street” style neighborhood, but, hey, I just needed a small bedroom to lay my head on after a long day at work. There was some broken furniture lying on the street right in front of my new home, and a couple of youngsters (“Hoodies” may be better description!) lurking in the background, but nothing out of the ordinary for this kind of area. “How long has this rubbish been here?, “When will it get cleaned?” I asked the landlord, who assured me that it will be cleaned quickly (it was still there when I left the place a few weeks later). I happily signed the contract for 6 months, and upon getting my keys, I went over to my VW Passat to get some belongings- came briefly into the flat to drop some bags.
It must have been less than 5 minutes before I returned to see my car’s front right hand side window completely smashed. “Nooo…this cannot be happening, has this really happened to me?” I asked myself in sheer panic. Sudden confusion and shock hit me. Initially I looked around to see if there could be sign of anyone that may have seen or heard anything- but no, not even a whisker in sight. It was just like the ghost town I had arrived in 5 minutes ago- I feared that even those who may have seen something perhaps were too afraid to come forward. Anger also hung around my heart- I wasn’t sure what to think because just a few minutes ago my landlord reassured me that this is a perfectly safe area and he has never had any problems; and here I was looking at my car completely smashed in within 5 minutes of me moving into this place! Taking deep breaths, whilst I tried to calm myself down from the abrupt adrenaline rush, I took a quick walk around the car to see if there was anymore damage caused.
Thankfully there was no further damage to the car, except that the culprit/s’ had skillfully taken my TomTom Navigation system. I frantically dialed 999 on my phone, hoping for the Police to turn up within minutes. “Police here, how may I help you?” spoke a lady with a calm voice. “My car’s front right hand window has been smashed and my GPS has been stolen, can you get someone here ASAP please?”, at this moment, words projecting “SOS!” seemed to have rolled out of my mouth without much attention being paid to anything else. I had to know that I was being looked after and that I was safe. However after the police verified all the details, they gave me an unexpected response: “Mr. Singh, it seems this is not an emergency, but we can advise you to take your car to the nearest repair garage”.
“What?!” I asked in shock, “I’ve had my car smashed into and burgled and you are saying this is not an urgent situation??!”, “What do you want me to do in the meantime? Hope for someone to come and attack me?”; Perhaps this was not a sensible response or maybe too panic ridden – but it goes without saying that, yes, I was in a highly distressed situation. I tried to calm myself down by telling myself not to take this personally, it can happen to anyone and anywhere in the world- and at that moment, I just wished I had taken the GPS out of the car. The Police did not arrive and said they cannot come because they have other “serious emergencies” to deal with. I would say that a fair statement, I mean it wasn’t that my life was at risk or anything (so far!); therefore I had the long wait for the AA Car services got there. Those few minutes of panic felt the loneliest in a long time…random thoughts kept jumping in my head, “Someone must have seen something?” I thought. It was a complete mystery to me that despite this crime happening in a built up area, surrounded by terraced homes, that no as to be seen in the area.
Then, as I made my way back to the flat to see if I could get some advice from my neighbors, a couple of teenagers’ in hoods went towards my car to take a curious look. Immediately I turned around back and hurried towards them. “Hey, wait, did you guys see anything?” I asked them. “Yo rudeboy* is this car yours?” asked the tallest of the two. “Yes, did you guys see anything?”, I asked them again, hoping they would be able to tell me the identity of the culprit. “No, but if you left something in your car, people would smash it anyways”, he carried on: “Geezer*, in this area even if someone sees a 50 pence coin, even that is enough for them to smash your window”. I didn’t know what to think. I could only sigh.
This experience was enough to persuade my inner-self to pack up and leave as soon as I could. Much to the Landlords disappointed, I departed with the next 7 seven days. There you go, now just because I had one bad experience of East London, does not mean the whole of the area is ridden with burglars’, but it has somewhat confirmed to me, at least, the stereotypical statements I had been told all these years! On the other hand, a friend reassured me that I shouldn’t be surprised- after all, pickpockets, thieves and likewise were invented in London (well before the Dickenson era!)!
* “Rudeboy” and “Geezer” are slangs used by some foul-mouthed individuals in parts of London (some may say it sounds cool, but in a civilized/professional environment it would be deemed quite the opposite).
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