Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Liz Jones' True Crime Masterclass, part 2...

*This was written as a response to Liz Jones' piece on the Jo Yeates murder; you can read the original here.

Is Lovely Steven Lawrence Becoming Just Another Device To Drive Web Traffic?

By Liz Jones

It’s Friday night and I’m in the British Lion pub on Eltham High Street.

This is near where Steven Lawrence spent his last evening before he set off up the hill, past all the twinkly shops and bars (a Chicken Cottage, Jamal’s Mini Mart, an Esso garage – Eltham is nothing, if not something) towards his death.

The pub is ok but ordinary. The wine list, chalked on a board, says ‘Sunday Liverpool v West Ham 3pm’.

I wish he had spent what were probably his last hours on earth near somewhere lovelier. The food is awful (I ask for a veggie burger and it doesn’t come because the kitchen is closed. I eat two sachets of ketchup and a napkin instead!) but the young women behind the bar are sweet with huge, wary teeth.

Alison is working her way through uni, where she is studying English. She comes from London and her parents are terrified that I am going to turn her into a clumsily obvious symbol to prove my point. The other drinkers are hostile, wary of outsiders. As I stand at the bar, they stare silently at me, ugly ‘pint glasses’ hovering mid-sip, in front of their wonky mouths.

Steven was murdered on April 22, 1993, but Alison says she doesn’t remember him. ‘I was only two years old,’ she says warily. ‘What’s on your face?’

Lyn, with white blonde hair, who was also barely sentient that night, says she is ‘definitely freaked out now. What are you doing?’

I leave the bar at 10pm after two more sachets of ketchup. My attempts to order a glass of ‘Sunday Liverpool’ fell on deaf ears, and after reapplying the boot polish to my face, I went to retrace Steven’s steps. Even though it is 10pm on a Friday night in a London suburb, the streets are mildly busy. A couple of black people walk past me. They hurriedly cross the road as they see me. I straighten my red, gold and green woolly hat against the night cold and turn off the main road.

I head down Rochester Avenue. It’s quieter now, and darker. Luckily, my lovely smile makes me visible to the passing drivers. A couple of them shout warnings to me that I ‘want to be fucking careful’ while gesticulating with their hands that gun crime may be a problem in this area. I am touched by their solidarity and feel somehow closer to Steven at this point in the pre-arranged narrative.

I find Budgens and go in. I almost buy that can of Panda Cola, but go for the more expensive, real Coke; the choice tells me that Steven wanted a lovely can of soft drink, something above the ordinary.

There is a police van on the green as I turn right towards the bus stop near where Steven was killed. An elderly gentleman is talking to the policeman; they are both white. The policeman has a kindly face, but as the old man talks and gestures in my direction the policeman looks at me just as I step under the cheap, unpleasant glow of a halogen streetlight. Seeing what I am, his face contorts in a grimace. I see the hatred that still bubbles under the surface here and make a run for it before I, too, become just another statistic.

I finally give the racist policeman the slip. Wiping the spilt Coke off my Africa-shaped pendant, I reach the point where Steven died. The ugliness of the lights in this area is an insult to his memory, to our people’s collective suffering. I take a Liberty’s paperweight from my pocket, and hurl it at the lamp. It fuses the bulb with a hiss and a shower of sparks, plunging the road into darkness. The paperweight lands with a smash and a thud.

A few lights click on and some ghastly Primark curtains twitch. I’d have expected people to run out – in a slow, respectful way – when I was being chased to my death by racist police minutes earlier. But no. Isn’t it interesting that you can almost snatch a young woman’s life away in the most violent, painful, frightening way possible, take away her future horses, her future features about spending Christmas on your own, take away everything she loves, and yet there are elaborate systems in place to ensure you do not smash in streetlights on aesthetic grounds?

I kneel down in the road, and notice a small plaque under the now (like me) respectfully darkened streetlight. ‘In loving memory of Stephen’ it reads. I look at the cheap, mass produced stone of the plaque and the tawdry serif font and think that I would have wanted something better. Fragments of my paperweight are scattered around it like beautiful celestial crystals. I hope these make up for the awful final injustices wreaked on Steven; the misspelling of his name, and the large crack which now runs down the middle of his memorial. Someone, in a moment of fear and hatred has dropped something heavy onto it from a very great height.

I kneel there, arranging the fragments of twinkling glass into an ‘L’ in front of his memorial, to remind our people of what we can never forget. Tears streak the colour from my cheeks and I blow my nose on a handkerchief from Biba. My fingers appear to be bleeding heavily.

Finally, a narrative construct in a taxi jumps out and runs to me brandishing a wildly mixed metaphor. ‘Not all us whiteys are morons!’ he says, grinning. Maybe not. But one moron is all it takes.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Festival Britannia in The Guardian Guide

My piece on BBC4's superb Festival Britannia film ran in The Guardian Guide just before xmas. Information on it at the BBC site here, while you can read my piece here.