21 May 2007
Thoughts on London
I was in London from the end of February to the beginning of April. Time enough to look around the city that I lived in for a year and which I had always thought of as England's premier city. I had been back on other trips, but never for so long, and never with the intention of staying there. This time I wanted to look at London differently: did I really want to live there?
About a year earlier I had spoken to an Englishman who had just arrived in Mexico. He made the comment that "London isn't England any more". He didn't say anything else; he just fixed me with a stare, just to make sure that I got the message. I can see his eyes, in my mind's eye, as I type these words. London isn't England any more...
The old London working class have been decanted - or have decanted themselves - into the new towns and suburbs that ring the capital. Essex to the east and Milton Keynes to the north, that is where the old London is still to be found. This has been going on for many years, but it has speeded up considerably while I have been away.
To take their place, to occupy the old districts, the middle class have moved in. To provide the cheap labour that is the talk of the smart dinner parties, in have come the East Europeans, Africans and Asians. A Chinaman sells pirate DVDs in Putney, and African tried to flog me a copy of a Rolex watch and the Eastern Europeans are the skilled labourers , the plumbers, mechanics and general factotums. They keep the wages down and prevent northerners, who would love to do those jobs, from moving in.
Nobody complains because nobody seems to be suffering. The old working class have moved out to nicer pastures. They commute into the city to work and then flee back home at night. The middle class are very happy because they benefit from the cheap labour, besides they can pat each other on the back and tell each other how liberal and tolerant London has become.
Underneath this calm people are unhappy. They worry about job security, about the long and gruelling hours that they work, and above all they worry about the price of houses. People are not happy, but there is not one political party that articulates their grievances. So all they do is complain.
Political involvement is at record lows. Probably the Iraq War has something to do with this. Over two million people turned out to protest at the coming aggression in 2003 and they were ignored. Turnout has fallen to record lows because all three main parties are dominated by upper middle class professionals who all share the same values and articulate the same ideology. What is the point of getting involved with any of that?
The city keeps going, but the smooth efficiency that I remember from the 1970s is gone, and probably gone forever. The underground trains keep breaking down, buses do not arrive on time, and everything costs an arm and a leg.
Service no longer exists. I went to a branch of PC World to ask about software. Nobody there even understood my question. Why are they not trained? Probably because it costs money and once fully trained they would demand higher pay. Far better to let the punter suffer and refer him to the website. British Airways no longer have an office outside the airports - the one that used to be at Oxford Circus closed last year. Everything is done on the web, until someone has a question that cannot be answered by a machine and then he has to wait over an hour to speak to a real live person on the telephone.
I took one look at that city and decided to return to Mexico. If I am going to live in a badly run shithole, that nobody cares about, then at least the weather is nice here.