Tongue-Tied and Hopping The Rabbit's Laugh

Tongue-Tied and Hopping

The Rabbit's Laugh

Traitor's Gate

Blasphemy and hope go hand-in-hand in London

London, England
November, 2002

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 an insatiable 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.

 

 

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Trafalgar Square

 

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Westminster in Snow

 

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Embankment morning

 

 

The Facts

Where I stayed

How I got around:
Transport for London. Good old tube. Ahh.