Grey, unreal city. T.S. Eliot said it well.
A few good friends agree, independently, that London presents a strange dichotomy. On the one hand it’s the European City of Opportunity, a place where nationality, ethnicity and creed are less remarked upon than your postcode. On the other, it’s a gaudy tableau of over-priced cafe receipts assembled with a thankless, relentless work-ethic.
I agree with them. I agree with w from Poland, x from Melbourne, y from Spain, z from Japan. It’s a blinding melange of hedonism and barely repressed post-colonial guilt. It’s a kettle boiling over and a heavy lid determined to stay clamped on until the hob gives up. It’s a world-famous capital slowly sinking into a meaningless grey quagmire.
Everywhere you turn, London finds a way to shove its pseudo-moderate, Big Society credentials down your throat. Or worse. Walk down Oxford Street now at night and you’re almost literally blinded by the giant, 20-foot Primark video screens hawking their slave-labour chic. The concept of “Public Transport” has become largely abstract. Mayor Boris Johnson is a right-wing charlatan masquerading as a harmless clown. It’s that McDonald’s advert about a generically northern pre-teen from a broken home who bonds with his new step-father over an unwanted gherkin. Or worse.
Now, London is endemically chaotic. Unlike Paris for example (although nowhere is perfect), London grew hodgepodge out of harsh necessity; the city entrance was prefaced for centuries by a steaming causeway of shit. Rhyme and reason were sacrificed for industry, Victorian ambition, and some natty moustaches. Now the moustaches are back, the causeway of shit has turned into Oxford Street and — harsh truth alert — despite our so called cosmopolitanism, most ethnic minorities live in ghettos and are routinely betrayed/enraged by “yuppies” trying to gentrify their turf.
I feel conflicted even writing about the place. I live in a typically poor borough of South London, though I’ve never been poor myself. I work near Camden, was born in the suburbs, and usually hang out in Soho. My feet have stood on a good few different nations, elevations and inclinations. I’m not an anthropologist but I’ll be damned in a hot minute if I don’t speak up the only way I know how. Laissez-faire attitudes, unlike the French who invented them, need to become the de rigeur public enemy.
Of course, there are many inspirational people, businesses and places here. And I wouldn’t be here if the city hadn’t welcomed my German-Jewish ancestors with such open arms. This is now, though. C’mon, London, stop being such good fodder for VICE Magazine and buck your ideas up. Apathetic irony is only possible in an affluent society, so let’s get earnest again.