TOGETHER as one
Robert Elms presents his long-running show on BBC Radio London. Its focus is the minutiae of London, its history, mysteries, geography, architecture, music, art, eating, drinking, characters and language.
The show is on six days a week. So when something significant happens in the city, he’s invariably on air at the time or soon afterwards.
But on the weekend of the London Bridge and Borough Market attack he was away. The trip had been a birthday present from his wife and they were somewhere abroad and idyllic.
When he woke up to the news on the Sunday morning, though, all he wanted to do was to come home.
Of course, part of this was he had a role to play. As an experienced presenter, it would have been down to him to find the right words. He was confident his stand-in, Dotun Adebayo, would do a good job, but he knew his listeners would have preferred to be listening to him.
But that wasn’t the reason he gave when he came back on air the following Thursday. In fact, he didn’t really give a reason. He just said he’d wanted to be back in London, back in Camden Town where he lives, back with the grime and the tears.
Many of us have had similar feelings recently. Whether it’s the vigils on Westminster Bridge or the impromptu sing-alongs in St Ann’s Square, Manchester. Or even deciding tonight was the night to watch an Ariana Grande concert.
It’s not so much defiance. After all, what choice do most of us have but to turn up at work the next morning? No, it’s more some deep need to show unity, solidarity, cohesion. Togetherness.
It’s infectious too. Somebody must have put the very bunch of flowers down in St Ann’s Square. Soon after it was a sea.
Look at Grenfell Tower as well. In amongst the anger, there’s been an outpouring of generosity. Food and clothes to donation centres, money to funds and even the offer of homes in the first few days after it happened.
In many ways, it’s the best side of people. But why do awful things have to happen to bring it out into the open?
The reason is we live in divided times. Everywhere you look. Rich versus poor, left versus right, in versus out, my view versus your view.
Social media, ironically, has played a huge part in this. It was meant to be a place for social interaction, the free exchange of ideas and information. Now it’s the home of trolling and bullying, fake news and live crime.
As Evan Williams, one of the founders of Twitter, said: “The internet is not a silver bullet. It’s a tool that reflects us. It’s just as good and bad as we are.”
At the extreme of this issue, of course, are the extremists. What they want, above all, is division. The more society gets split, the better it is for them. So they live in the cracks, pushing the two sides apart. In that sense, Finsbury Park was no different. Terrorism breeds terrorism.
So what these recent terrible events show is that Togetherness takes strength. It means sticking up for the similarities between us all, rather than the differences.
The late MP Jo Cox put it perfectly: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than that which divides us.”
But pulling together, in turn, makes us stronger. The circle is virtuous.