Monday, 16 January 2017

Tube Strike Riots? Not Really

So the entire London underground, which some call a Metro or Tube, closes because of an all-out strike. Are there punch-ups, furious rows, knife attacks on the staff ? Well, actually no. A few rants perhaps. In the face of adversity, the old Cockney humour erupts all over town.

We take to buses, we take to the overground, we take to the riverbus and to marching like one massive, over-age Sunday school outing. Since 98% of us have a mobile phone, we take to Twitter, with a hilarious hashtag game #tubeStrikeaPlay, in which you have to post a message based on both the strike and a play, song title or book. A modern, spontaneous version of 'Charades'. The first was the message #A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse! then someone replied with #Tu be or not Tu be? quickly followed by #Twelfth Strike ha ha!

Why do Londoners tolerate strike action at all? It's to do with history. There are almost no native Londoners - we were all immigrants once - in Celtic times and Roman, in Viking and Saxon. From Scotland after the Highland Clearances, and from Ireland after the Potato Famine. France gave us the French element when the Hugenots had to leave. We have Jewish Londoners from many parts of the globe by now after pogrom, holocaust and countless other outrages. More recently, refugees came from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria - the list goes on.

Any whiff of oppression, real or imagined, and something primeval surfaces.
'This must be just like the London Riots,' a group of schoolchildren tell me as we stand together at the bus stop. 'Everyone on the streets like this, init.'
 'Oh,' say I, 'in 2011 you mean? Were you there? That must have been scary for you.'
 'No,' they chorus. 'the apprentices riots in in 1595.' Apparently, they're doing it for a project.

 'Have you seen this one? they ask me, referring to Twitter again. #Much aqueue about Nothing
We clutch our sides laughing and they commandeer the whole of the bus queue into researching their project for them.

'Can you remember the apprentice riots ma'am?' they ask me. 'Of course not,' I reply, seriously  offended. 'Although, thinking back, I can remember the Poll Tax riots in 1991.' #An Inspector Calls in Sick (screams more laughter).

'Well,' says an elderly lady standing just behind us. 'I can do better. I remember the Jarrow Hunger March.'

'What?' the children choris. 'Respect, ma'am'.

I am truly humbled. When I was at school, I don't think I knew about the Jarrow Hunger March.  Or respect. Oh dear. #Don't worry uncle'l van'ya

'They came all the way from Jarrow on the River Tyne,' she said. 'Walked the whole way from Newcastle. They had so little, but people came out of their houses to cheer them on, and to give them food to keep them going. My mother did. And we had little enough ourselves. That was in 1936, my dears.' #The Curious Incident of the Walk Until Nightime

We are silent for a moment, thinking about the Jarrow men and what they stood for. We don't exactly enjoy tube strikes (and that's a massive understatement) but hell, there's a principle at stake here. #Late expectations says one of the boys, looking at his phone.

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