On Tuesday morning it seemed as though everyone in Britain had an emotional hangover from the trauma of the night before.
After staying up until 2 am glued to Twitter and the news, I felt so shaken I couldn’t face going into my office, and cocooned myself at home, to work in bed, eating biscuits.
When I did eventually have to venture out I found my elderly neighbour standing outside her house sobbing. She just couldn’t contain how upset she felt.
Later, as I drove around the seaside town where I live, I felt very nervous. It’s quaint and elegant in different parts, becoming increasingly cool and fashionable, with lovely independent shops and cafes springing up as they do in such places.
But it also has some pockets of severe urban poverty, where for several decades seriously deprived people have lived reproducing very young, bringing into the world generation after generation of a chain-smoking, hard-drinking, drug-taking, benefit dependent, illiterate underclass.
Vicky Pollard territory. Just the kind of place looting could kick off.
As I drove I was also very aware of there being a lot of young men out and about and I felt oddly threatened by them.
I’m a healthy woman, I normally look at young men in a similar spirit to the way I gaze in at the windows of Graff in Bond Street. I don’t want to buy it, but I like to check out the merch.
Give me a shirtless scaffolder to perve on, or the bare-chested love god who cleaned my windows the other week and I’m happy. It’s a passing comfort, like hearing your favourite pop song on the radio. But on Tuesday I saw them in a different light, not sexual – but powerful.
It was seventeen, or eighteen year olds I really noticed. Those hard bodies, all lean muscle and sinew, like perfectly oiled machines. It made me think about what it must be like to suddenly grow a physique like that.
I have a number of gorgeous little boys in my life, children of friends, who are the same age as my daughter. I remember them as cuddly little three year olds, who would sit on my lap for a story.
Now they are nine and have turned into gristly little packets with scabby knees. They’ll turn any stick into a gun and wrestle you for it, but they’re still little boys. I look at them and try to imagine what they’ll be like as men.
It’s really hard to make the mental leap and I have a friend with grown up sons who told me it’s the weirdest thing, the first time you go into their room and see a big hairy leg sticking out of the bed, where the scabby-kneed one used to be.
But while it’s strange enough to observe, what must it be like to experience such changes in your own body?
Of course I can remember my own frame suddenly sprouting new bits and changing shape, but I didn’t feel powerful from it. The opposite. It made me feel vulnerable because ghastly men started look and leer at me, shout things out, or even try to feel me up.
It was horrendous and I took to wearing voluminous smocks until I grew into myself and felt brave enough to face them down.
So how amazing it must be, without any conscious effort on your part, to suddenly morph into being the animal at the top of the food chain. It must be like being a Fiat 500 and then just turning into a Formula One car.
You may not have any money, a car, a girlfriend, or even the vote, but suddenly you’re the fastest, the strongest, the toughest. The top predator. Everyone is scared of you. What a power surge that must be.
It’s why a lot of cultures have initiation rites and ceremonies to mark it. They acknowledge a transition, a shift in the power structure, that affects the whole community and instill a sense of responsibility in the young men who have grown into their new power.
I think we have abandoned all that, to our peril. Initiation for an increasing number of young men in the UK comes via being accepted into criminal gangs. Even in less extreme cases, it’s through binge drinking.
And that’s what made the events on this week in London, Birmingham and Manchester so terrifying to me. Those mobs of young guys had suddenly and collectively understood the power they hold just by growing up and being fit.
The sooner the rule of law is shown to be more powerful than sheer brute force and numbers, the better.
I’m still feeling shaken. And I’ve posted this shameless perve fest of pictures of Zac Efron to console myself…