Blasphemy and hope go hand-in-hand in London
And so I came to London, like Dick Whittingdon and Kylie Minogue, seeking my fortune. This is the largest and richest city in Europe, and so
if the streets are paved with gold, perhaps I could scuff my heels along them and pick up little bits for myself. Alas, I need that gold to pay the landlord.
I'd come to England as any other country, to sample her own peculiar traditions,
to hear people tell me to "leave it ahhht", or "doo me a fayyvour" or "you're nicked, mate"; to visit pubs called
the Rat and Random Vegetable, or The Duke of Whatever for a meat pie; to drink warm beers called
Blind Jack's Gutbuster, or Old Git's Piss; and
to eat vindaloo and chips. And, following all that, fart like a broken trombone, and laugh about it, just like an Englishman.
London, like other capital cities, is a state apart. As you settle into your life in Islington or Shepherd's Bush, the very possibility
of there being any other part of the country fades away into distant memory. It's all just too far away to bother with. London
goes on forever. The yellow glow of the great city is comforting. It makes days endless, and the long, wet English nights become another
kind of day. Even in Winter, it is never truly cold here, although it does rain, and seems to rain forever until suddenly it is gone. Then it's
a bright Sunday morning, time to visit the museums and palaces of the old Empire, weave through the markets or just wander
in the Georgian streets.
The best and the worst are are in London. I can spend half an hour considering the Parthenon marbles for free, and then
spend 20p on a tabloid titled Princess Anne Knockers Shocker! on the way home.
Money is Everything
London was built on, and has prospered by, and lives for, money. Financial probity made this city into a world hub,
and lives in the beating heart of every true London son. Wild men, dreams and songs, and flights of fervour
belong to the dark hillsides of the north and west. The accent of the South East is low, confident pragmatism.
And it infects you. Within weeks of coming to London you start to think to think about money, the things of money:
costs of living, prices of property, prices of everything, the rent, it's all about money
and how to get more. You can't help it. Because you can see, every day with your own eyes, just how you might live, what you
might do if you just could find your way to more money. The dream house! The chunky shoes! The posey night clubs! The moodily-lit restaurants serving those
fiddly little things that you don't know how to eat!
And that is what we are all engaged in, looking for money or trying to enjoy it.
In the City banks confident men in important suits feed half-truths
to counterparts across the world; little markets spring up in every part of town to fulfill
city-wide demand for DVD knock-offs and cheap batteries; London scallywags shout and swear
to get their taxi, or trade, or point of view across; Albanian gangs fight Triads to control prostitution
and vice rings; Kurds import heroin; newspaper barons and politicians vie to ask each other
what can be done about it all.
And you can do it, that's the maddening thing. Every day ordinary people, just like you and I
find their way to the pot of gold, to be expensively housed, to be expensively shoed, to fiddle in expensive
restaurants and desperately hope that noone notices that they don't know what to do with the extra fork.
With such vast riches flowing through the city every day, it's always possible
to find some channel, some small conduit to get a little for yourself. All you have to do is find a niche,
a new angle or an old
vice, and then ten thousand blasphemies given can equal ten thousand dreams begun.
Appearance is Everything
But when would it be enough?
In London, comparison is all. Comparison a human curse, a self inflicted prophesy. We can
never be happy as long as someone else is better off, better looking, more appropriately dressed, less appropriately radical.
We must do this, we must compare ourselves with the people we see around ourselves, and always make ourselves unhappy.
London is a city of twelve million people, and on an average commuter day you get to personally meet them all!
Thousands of new faces, clothes, hairstyles, ideas rush by every day, in the streets, in the traffic, on the
underground trains. Thousands of clay statues newly brought to life for our personal
perusal rush by on the down escalator, each one a new possibility. You can
try to remind yourself that you are a perfect crystal edifice of unique human joy, but it's no use. You betray yourself.
You can't help but
compare yourself against all these others, you stick your head out the gate just for a peek and you're lost. Should I have
a goatee and a knitted cap like a teapot with fur? square glasses to make me serious yet witty? Impractically large shoes? You're
lost, not yourself anymore but never quite right, until you find yourself sitting in fashionable Islington cafes bitching about
your equally well dressed friends.
Everything is Everything
And so here it is, pass through the Traitor's Gate of wealth or illusion, dreams or loss, and try your hand at any trade
or vice that may have you, and who knows? Your dreams may provide you with more substance than others. But only one thing is
sure, as long nights follow endless days, the rains will come again to wash our ten thousand blasphemies away, and the city is
renewed, to welcome the next Dick Whittington, ready to try his luck again.
Westminster in Snow
Where I stayed
How I got around:
Transport for London. Good old tube. Ahh.