Despite feeling somewhat under par with my chest infection, I gave in yesterday to Ellie's constant requests for the big 'back to school' shop to get stationary and new shoes. I love the stationary shop. We had new things every year at the start of the school year and I still treat myself to some new 'stuff' every September. It gives me a boost. Shoe shopping was pretty easy too - just a 10 minute wait and the first pair Ellie liked were available in her size. I was struggling, we were walking slowly and taking 'breather breaks' but all was good, except something rather strange was happening.
It was 3.30pm when we had finished and were setting off for home but shops were shutting. I thought it was staff training at first but then a few more put their shutters down. I didn't really think much more about it, I was too excited about trying out my new fountain pen and organising my work into my pretty purple folders. We knew there were rumours that Croydon would riot. Twitter was full of posts about things happening but we didn't see anything to worry about. Matt came over at about 6.30 and told us that there were police all over the place and there was a 'funny atmosphere.' We kept glued to Twitter, watching the latest updates. Soon, there were photos appearing of rioting youths and burning busses that confirmed the rumours.
At about 9pm, Hope, Ellie and I noticed the neighbours were outside their houses looking towards the city centre (only a mile and a half away). We stepped out and I coughed immediately. The air was thick with acrid smoke. It was like about 30 bonfire nights all in one. I really struggle to breathe with just one! Croydon was burning and it was more than just a bus!
We all spent the rest of the night gathered round the TV, watching 24 hour news channels. It was probably the most surreal night of my life. We watched our town burn, including a furniture shop that has been trading as a family business for 140 years! The air got smokier and my breathing got harder, even in the house you could smell thick smoke. There was no escaping it. Outside looked like a fog had descended. The rioting and fires were all between me and our hospital and I knew there would be no ambulances available if I got into real difficulty. My COPD was caused by a life time of severe brittle asthma and I still have that as well as the permanent damage. I wondered if there were others out there like me. Fighting for every breath because of these arsonists. We wouldn't be included in casualty numbers. How many more people are sick, suffering, even dying as a result of this mindless selfishness. Rioters say they are attacking property and not people but they are putting my life and the lives of those like me in danger!
My children were terrified. William kept asking if he'd die and the girls were restless and stayed glued to the TV long beyond bedtime. I eventually got us all into out beds - beds bought from the now gutted furniture shop, but we had fit full nights. I hardly slept at all as breathing is still hard for me. I had to keep on my nebuliser to keep going. My lungs are wheezy, sore and tight and I'm coughing like crazy. I've now increased my steroids and am hoping this will settle or I'll end up in hospital - as a direct result of the arson!
The sun is now shining, our end of Croydon is pretty normal. Less than two miles away is a different story. William has his first ever birthday party today. There are no trams to take us there - the tram tracks in West Croydon have melted in the blaze! Parents are calling to ask if we are going ahead. Some won't make it but I am determined to give him a good party. His first words when he stirred this morning were, "Am I safe?" He is only seven years old! How long will it take for these fears to be erased? What will happen tonight?
Those with breathing problems, frightened children, frightened adults. These are the hidden victims of the London riots and there must be thousands of us. I'm lucky. I know what to do when my chest gets bad. Scared old people don't. Please check on your neighbours.
I hope everyone reading this is safe and stays safe.