8th August 2011
I often tell people I barely remember what happened. That's a complete lie. I can take myself back to it with ease, and feel it all as if I were still there. I think it's about time people thought about this turn of events in terms of much more than the destruction of bricks and mortar.
Imagine a situation where what just 30 minutes ago was something happening on TV that you felt immensely grateful wasn't happening to you, suddenly was happening to you. Where you were living out a moment that you'd not even imagined could happen in your leafy middle class neighbourhood. And somewhere in the middle of that moment, you found yourself asking the question people always ask in interviews with celebrities when they've run out of decent questions - "If the house was burning down, what would you save first?".
I should mention that I'd already thought I was about to die several times in my then 31 years. Once when I almost drowned in an outdoor swimming pool, once when my father accidentally set fire to the flat on Christmas Day 1989 (much to my mother's anguish), and then again when someone held a knife to my throat in the woods on a cannabis fuelled night when I was 15. Only the second of these featured any sort of feeling about what my death might mean, and that was dismay that I'd never get to play with my new Gameboy before I died. I know - first world problems.
In August 2011, a hot summer and a lot of crowd psychology resulted in gangs of people rioting on the streets of London, mostly breaking into unoccupied shops and stealing pointless things like Playstations. Those were businesses. Granted some were businesses owned by people whose lives depended on them, but they were able to fall back on Mr Cameron's promise to 'not leave anyone out of pocket'. For some unfathomable reason, some of those people took it to the next level. Some decided that attempted murder was a good laugh, something to break up the monotony of what was essentially quite a dull riot.
Let me further set the scene by filling you in on the weeks immediately before that night; I'd just had a failed cardiac ablation surgery, which didn't involve cracking the chest open, but did involve me having adrenaline pushed into my bloodstream directly through my femoral artery. As you can imagine, it wasn't very pleasant, and neither was the bruising afterwards that was so extensive it passed through me from the front of my hip into my buttock, and was absolutely black and blue. Walking was neither possible, nor desirable. I'd also just found out that I was probably infertile. So I was struggling emotionally with these experiences already. To cut a long story short, as we were watching the riots unfold on the news channels, they suddenly arrived at our front door.
It's quite hard to describe the feeling you get when you realise there's an angry mob of around 200 people outside your home, smashing windows and throwing flaming missiles up at your windows. I'd say it was akin to the feeling of mainlining adrenaline - the kind of situation that seems so unbelievable that you actually laugh. I'm terrible for nervous laughter. We turned off all our lights, I have no idea why we thought that was a thing we should do. They already knew there were people inside, there were two more floors above us with their lights on. Not a single police officer was there - it was just us and them. I thought about taking our biggest kitchen knife downstairs and defending my property, but I was talked out of it fairly quickly. Once we'd realised that help was definitely not coming, and I'd heard someone outside saying he was going to start a fire, we knew it was time to leave.
Somewhere between us packing a rucksack and when we started running, I went into shock.
I'll spare you more details because frankly I'm sick of talking about it, but what I do want to tell you is what happened afterwards. Yes, we were insured. No, the payout didn't cover our losses. In fact there is no insurance that would've covered what we lost, such a policy doesn't exist. We weren't just homeless, we couldn't go to work because funnily enough, when people try to burn your home down when you're inside it, you don't take a carefully planned outfit you can then wear to work the next day.
I busied myself with distraction; we stayed with family, then friends, then in a Travelodge room for two months. I had a second abdominal surgery whilst we lived out our very own Alan Partridge storyline. We had no idea what to do next - we couldn't rent because we'd lost all proof of who we were. I did TV news interviews and appeared in the national press. Anything to stop me thinking about what was happening to us. During that aftermath, I lost all ability to be rational. I drank heavily and sobbed uncontrollably. I hated everyone.
During the whole of that time, not a single person outside family and friends asked if we were ok - they asked if we were physically hurt, but our mental health? Not a sausage. The police apparently hunted for the perpetrator, whom they said would be charged with attempted murder, but nobody was ever caught. They just stopped calling us and that was the end of it. Except it wasn't. It still isn't.
Our MP called me once, after I'd tweeted her about our plight; she said 'So you're the tweeter?' As if I were some sort of annoying insect. The only help we got was to speed up our insurance claim, which was still not progressing even 2 months afterwards. Boris Johnson refused our claim from the fund for which the sole purpose was to help those disadvantaged by the events, and Cameron's words rang hollow as always. Millions of pounds of that fund were never given to those in need. It was hard not to feel bitter that some businesses had huge sums of money raised for them by strangers onlin to rebuild when we had nothing. Sometimes you find your ugliest sides when you've lost everything. I still have the letter from Boris, listing a million bullshit reasons why they weren't going to help us.
I tried to engage with Victim Support, but they would only see me in Ealing although I was staying on the other side of London with no money. Everyone seemed to assume that we because weren't injured physically, everything was ok. It wasn't. It still isn't.
I didn't lose just my business. I lost both my business and my home, I almost lost my relationship, and I lost my ability to walk alone after dark. I lost my trust that the emergency services would be there when I needed them and I lost my mental health.
Maybe if I'd had the chance to tell this to the politicians who thought that we didn't deserve any help, they might've stopped thinking that money was all that mattered. No amount of money will heal that scar.
Is it really so difficult to imagine how what happened might be mentally difficult? It was. It still is.