I had visited Brazil a few times before I moved here to live, so I was aware that they take security pretty seriously. Supermarkets and banks have armed guards, apartment blocks are surrounded by impenetrable steel cages, and all the police are armed – even the humblest traffic cop.
But when I moved into my house, a few things struck me as unusual. Every window has steel bars – like a jail – and both the front and back doors are protected by big steel bars too.
When I moved in, it was unnerving and unusual. My front door in Muswell Hill opened onto the street, my front door in Ealing was not facing the street, but there was nothing to stop anyone walking up to the door. The open spaces at the front of houses, gardens for example, just don’t really exist here. If a house or apartment black has a garden then it is behind bars so only the residents can possibly access it.
Walking down a main street late at night is also strange. Every shop, bar or restaurant will have steel shutters. I know there are some shops in London that pull shutters down at night, but not every single shop. It’s quite normal to walk past shops late at night where only a pane of glass stands between you and their stock.
This sense of security makes me think of when I have visited Luxembourg. The head of state lives in a palace in the city centre that any member of the public can approach. You can walk up and have a look through the window. They don’t feel any need to erect barriers.
Quite a contrast to the average apartment-dweller in Brazil who only feels safe living inside a cage.
But, with the riots in London and across the UK over the past week, will this fear of the unknown and underclass pervade society so bars go up and steel shutters become essential?
I hope not, but I’m expecting the worst.