Last Saturday I went up to London with my bike on the train to see my dad and go to Victoria park’s firework spectacle. Arriving into London I spied my dad hiding from me just outside the barriers at the end of platform 18. We pushed our bikes through the station and came out onto Wilton Road and cycled up towards the river. After a swift half facing into the autumnal sun outside the Morpeth Arms – one of my dad’s favourite pubs – we walked up to the Tate, locked our bikes out front and joined the throng of people shuffling through the J.M.W Turner exhibition.
I didn’t realise Turner was such a huge ego. It seems he made his name by imitating the great masters and trying to show he could do what they did – only better. It was amazing to see Turner alongside Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt and Constable. On one occasion, at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1832, Turner returned to the gallery a day ahead of the opening on ‘varnishing day’ to spy Constable’s painting entitled The Opening of Waterloo Bridge. On seeing his contribution, Turner took a brush and added a dash of red paint to his own painting. In comparison Constable’s painting now looked over the top and gaudy and he was none too pleased. What a sneek he was – that Turner! He really knew how to get and keep the public’s attention.
Next, we swung through the Turner prize and I was most drawn to the work of Lucy Skaer. Her blurb says she makes drawings, sculptures and films which often take found photographic sources as their starting point. One piece called Black Alphabet – which consists of 26 dust coal sculptures I found stunning; stark, bold and very striking.
That evening crushed tightly against other revellers inside Victoria Park, with my brother and some of his friends – we watched some fantastic fireworks. It wasn’t quite cold enough to capture my heart but I definately had one or two sparkly moments. However, no sooner had it started it was over and I was queuing to get out. Ordinarily in this situation – crammed into a vast crowd inching painfully slowly towards a narrow opening I start hyper-ventilating and imagining worse case scenarios. Too many people pushing forward, no where for those in front to go – with fearful mayhem ensuing. I kept focussing on the fact that it was still early and the crowds were full of mums, dads and children. Sensible, safe people. Nothing untoward was going to happen right now. I escaped the throng and took refuge outside an Italian café and considered ordering pizza and wine for a treat for me and my brother whom I had lost somehow in my failed attempt at beating a hasty retreat ahead of the rest.
Soon after wolfing down pizza my bro and I were unlocking our bikes in the rain. He was going to cycle me back to Bethnal Green before going on to a party. We had to get off and push our bikes when we hit the crowds on Broadway Market – it was nearly 10p.m. The streets were busy and full of trendy types hanging out despite the fact it had been raining on and off and was starting to feel really cold. At one point as the crowd thickened we had to be really careful not to run our bikes into the ankles of the people in front. Those coming towards us had to swerve to avoid our handlebars. It was at this moment that we heard a loud bang and turned to see a guy standing still, pointing a gun down a side street we had just passed – smoke was coming out of its end. Nothing happened. No one reacted. There was no noise. It was weird. A moment frozen in time. Two men ran round the corner and disappeared into the night – the guy with the gun and and another. The one with the gun had, moments earlier pushed past us in the crowd.
Me and my brother stood in the kerb looking back and wondering what the hell just happened. Had we witnessed a murder? or a failed attempt? I was in shock and thinking about how we nearly got in his way and how we might have paid for making him late for his target. My brother was quite rightly more worried about whether or not there was someone lying injured or worse – dead. Still, nothing much was happening. We wondered if it was even a real gun? Maybe it was a stunt?
I felt bad. There couldn’t have been a body – the shooter must have missed – cos still no-one was reacting. In the meantime some git in a car went ape shit at us for getting in his way and beeped his horn at us angrily, swearing and shaking his fists out of the window. This side show really unnerved us. His aggression was directed right at us in close proximity. He was horrible. Nothing was happening and so we got back on our bikes and now pretty shaken from this road rage we carried on up to Hackney Road.
What just happened? Why didn’t anyone react? I didn’t get it. My bro took me back to my dad’s front door which was the right thing to do considering. It must have been gone 10p.m. by now and a few minutes later I got a text from my brother. On his way back past the scene, he saw that the area had been cordoned off with two police vans. He reckoned there was no body. The police had been called at least – thank goodness for someone having the right reaction.
I googled ‘shooting on Broadway Market’ when I got back to Brighton and for several days thereafter and I found nothing. Is that because shootings are so common on the streets of London that they just aren’t reported or is it that no body means no story? Should I have gone to the police even tho there were hundred’s of other witnesses – plenty closer to the scene than us? And even though the guy with the gun practically had to push us out of his way to get to where he was headed, my brother and I couldn’t even agree on what he was wearing. I still don’t know what to make of this. At once such a familiar scene from films and TV but certainly close up it just felt wierd and maybe that’s why no-one reacted – we didn’t know what we were looking at nor how to react to it?