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So you sit here in this window, gazing down at a quiet ordinary street.

It’s a street like any other. Cars, houses, the pale breath of streetlights. The gentle hum of traffic two streets away.

The occasional taxi circling slowly like a lost 7 year old who hasn’t yet reached his moment of total panic.

Everything feels quietly anxious.

Something is about to happen.

Something is already happening.

Look closer.

Watch better.

Soon you may be out there on the cold pavement, all furtive glances and knowing looks.

Quietly
Anxious.

Soon you could be out there.

You could be part of it. You could be up to your eyeballs in it.

What would you do?

What would you say?

What would you be thinking in those seconds as you raced down the stairs, a giddy fear bubbling away in your stomach?

And the faces peering down out of the darkness. Watching closely and quietly.

Best to wait a little longer.

Let the dust settle a little.

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This city is falling.

Under the bright lights we’re always one siren away from panic.
A smashed glass.
A raised voice.
Heads all turning in the same direction.

People run.

A dustbin quietly smoulders as people walk by, trying to catch a stranger’s eye to share a moment of alarm.

This… this can’t be ok, can it?

Surely this isn’t ok?

Street lights flicker and go out just as you pass them and you wonder if this is just coincidence, or if someone is bored somewhere in a small room, watching you walking. Studying your anxious footsteps tapping just a beat too quickly across the pavement, flicking switches and setting your pulse racing.

The screech of tyres.
A smashed glass.
A raised voice.

This can’t just all be coincidence can it?

Surely this isn’t ok?

But sometimes people run.
And sometimes people drop things.
A siren is for an elderly lady who’s had a turn in her flat, or a chip pan fire, or a man fitting on a streetcorner biting down on his tongue and spitting it out onto the street, all blood red like something from the international pages of a newspaper.

The record slips briefly and finds its place again.

Seeing isn’t always believing.

So you sit and watch.

You look closer.
You watch better.

The record slips but it always finds its place again.

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So you sit here in this window, gazing down at a quiet ordinary street.

It’s a street like any other. Cars, houses, the pale breath of streetlights. The gentle hum of traffic two streets away.

The occasional taxi circling slowly like a lost 7 year old who hasn’t yet reached his moment of total panic.

Everything feels quietly anxious.

Something has definitely started now.

But it’s all in the timing.

Picture the scene.

You are injured.
Incapacitated.

Perhaps you’ve broken your leg in some kind of freak sledging accident.

You spend your days sitting in a window not unlike this one, gazing down at a quiet ordinary street.

Through the telephoto lens of your top of the range Nikon camera you catch sight of an argument in the shadows at the end of the street.

You hear only the indistinct sound of far away anger – the occasional word bubbling to the surface.

Now though it seems to be escalating.

There are pushes.

Hands grab.

A smashed glass.
A raised voice.

Then a moment of inexplicable calm

And then suddenly they are off and running.

Chasing each other down past your window and off into the city.

What have you seen?

A mugging
A gangland reprisal
Revenge for a night of reckless passion with another man’s wife
The storm brewed from a teacup-sized amount of beer spilt across an expensive shoe
The consequence of a disagreement about a penalty decision in a recent London derby
A promise broken
A recreation of a scene from the Third Man inspired in that moment by the specific angle of streetlight on pavement and a shared affection for the work of Graeme Greene
A protest maybe
Maybe a protest – one man’s brave stand snuffed out before it began by the anonymous borderguards of the status quo.
An elaborate brotherly ritual forged in the wide open spaces of snowy Minnesota
The cathartic consequences of spotting an old school bully in the corner of the pub and realising that two years doesn’t mean the same thing it once did now you’re in your late twenties
A government hit
A passionate debate about the best Fleetwood Mac album
A bet
A spectacle entirely for your benefit created at the bequest of a loved one worried that you’d run out of good books to read
A dream
A fantasy
A trick of the light

What do you do when you come across someone talking angrily and incoherently as they stand on their own in the corner of a room? Are you pleased or disappointed when you see the hands free set tucked delicately in their ear?

How do you decide who is good and who is bad? Who is right and who is wrong?

Does it matter? If you’re going to fight a war over nothing – it’s best to be on the side that’s going to win.

Is losing ever a risk worth taking?

What do you believe in?

Back in early December 2008, it was Catherine Place, a quiet ordinary street near London’s Victoria Station, where it all began.

Tension had been mounting for some time.

The Iraq War and the so-called ‘dodgy dossier’. The continued attempts to impose ID cards on an unwilling populace. The government’s support of first 90 and then 42 days detention for terrorist suspects. The forced deportation in the middle of the night of numerous asylum seekers. The police’s handling of the Jean Charles de Menezes shooting. The dropping of a major police investigation into allegations of corruption in the arms industry at the request of the Saudi Arabian government. The tacit support for illegal rendition flights and the torture of supposed terrorist subjects. The banning of any non-sanctioned protest within one kilometre of the Houses of Parliament. The removal of Habeus Corpus.

With the financial turmoil of that brief, wet summer and the autumn of discontent that followed the country was at melting point.

Reports are unclear as to what exactly happened that evening.

One narrative suggests that several cityworkers heading home got into an altercation with some recently unemployed builders that quickly attracted the attention and involvement of other people nearby.

Others have stated that there was something much more sinister at work. That the suited figures at the heart of the matter, their blurry CCTV images now forever emblazoned on the nation’s memory, were in fact government representatives. Conspiracists have directed people’s attention to what appear to be a series of brown envelopes in the still photos released of the event and argued that what occurred on Catherine Place was in fact a botched cover-up on the scale of Watergate. An attempt by the government to silence those people willing to make a stand against a litany of injustices.

Yet others suggest that the entire thing was a moment of orchestrated spectacle designed entirely to provoke an apathetic populace into collective action.

Either way it is apparent that all was needed was a spark and this was it. What began as a small scuffle on the street – a smashed glass, a raised voice – quickly degenerated into something far greater.

Events that night had touched a nerve. Within half an hour over twenty people were out on the streets. Now passers-by were also stopping. There were numerous scuffles, raised voices, burning papers, thrown objects. By eight o’ clock that night the fighting had spread to the rest of Westminster as drinkers flooded out of the pubs and bars to see what was causing all the commotion.

What had begun quite specifically as a conflict between two small sides by this stage had become simply a general wave of violence. Shop windows were smashed. Cars were set fire to.

Now however there was a critical mass of rioters moving with intent down Victoria Road towards parliament square. Carrying hastily constructed banners and placards they crossed Trafalgar square (in the process crushing much of Brian Haw’s demonstration against the Iraq War) and began forming a mass several thousand strong pushed up against the gates of the houses of parliament.

A hastily assembled and panicking police force fired tear gas into the crowd before moving in with truncheons. They were quickly repelled however and forced to flee over Westminster bridge towards the South Bank, where the national theatre would later become a surrogate headquarters for the police and army after the ransacking of Scotland Yard.

Several nights of rioting ensued. Large areas of central London were abandoned though Buckingham Palace remained remarkably untouched.

Although their were political grievances aired much of the violence appeared indiscriminate and looting was rife.

And where was I in all of this?

I was
Well,
I was
I was
I was
I
I
I

I sat upon the shore Fishing, with the arid plain behind me

Shall I at least set my lands in order?

(hum and then sing)

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
An if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

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