'NONE of us goes to town no more. Too violent.' Mark is referring to a fight in a club in the city centre called Panama Joe's, when a man with a cut-throat razor went berserk and slashed several people, seriously injuring them. All of the people injured were from Ely and personally known to Mark and the others.
I am spending Saturday evening with Mark and the others, all young, all white and nearly all conspicuously tattooed, on the Ely estate. We are sitting in Jason's front garden sipping beer and rolling joints. The house is in a small curving cul-de-sac just off Wilson Road where just a year ago there were four nights of serious rioting. It's all quiet now and though there will be several fights, muggings and break-ins tonight, the estate, apart from the gang of teenagers smoking and gambling outside the chip shop, has a suburban peacefulness.
I am here chatting and drinking beer by virtue of having been born and brought up on the estate and, though I've lived away for almost twenty years, I am still considered one of them. I am amazed at how much has changed. Ely has always been a problem estate, but a very British working class one. It would have been inconceivable to sit in the front garden openly smoking a joint and casually calling across the road to the dealer-neighbour asking about E or dope. Not while your five year old daughter played with her friends in the same garden. It would also have been inconceivable to be early twenties, unmarried, and with kids. However, what was beyond comprehension was to be in your early twenties and still at home on a Saturday evening!
It's not just the recession that has wrought the …