Fields of Fire

Monday, August 11th, 2003

This morning I walked to the station through charred and blackened grass, the smell of burning hanging in the air, a fire engine in the distance.

We live by a large park. Each summer the council keeps the grass on one half cut but lets the other half grow wild. Paths slice through the overgrown area and you can walk between knee-high seas of grass that ripple in the wind. It's rather wonderful.

This year's game of choice among the local youth is to set the park on fire. Half the wild area is now dead and blackened, and the smell of smoke often rolls over our flats.

It's possible, of course, that some of these fires are accidental – it's pretty damn hot after all, and people do discard glass bottles in the park. But I sat on a bus a few days ago as we passed by and watched as three lads saw the after-effects of one blaze. “Look at that!” shouted the loudest, “that's just like I did to the other park!”

They're a horticultural bunch, our local vandals. In spring, the council planted some saplings in front of the flats opposite the park. Within days several had been snapped off at shin height. One clung on, a strip of bark connecting the stump and the branches lying on the ground. It even produced a few leaves. But it didn't really stand a chance.

The bus route that passes the park begins in an estate where the local councillors are friends of mine. One told me that when the council planted trees on an open space there, the kids taunted the workmen openly, telling them they were wasting their time – “We'll have 'em all up tonight.” They were as good as their word.

The part of London I live in is, to put it politely, a shithole. It needs all the help it can get to appear habitable. But it's easy to see why people give up and stop trying when this is what happens.

Still, at least while the grass is burning there are fewer stolen cars being torched…

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I'm Andy Darley. Sometimes I want to say things. This is where I do it.