city that assaults the senses with images faster than you can process: a
rapidly-fluttering butterfly against century-old walls, timeless and
what you will of a shop window of a headless mannequin wearing a Marilyn
Monroe-type dress being perpetually blown upwards by an invisible fan, of
an African girl stepping out of an overcrowded, claustrophobic train
during rush hour with an armful of flowers, looking like an oil painting.
can, if you like, inhabit other people’s lives, recognise how
wonderfully crazily multi-lingual-cultural the world has become, as an
Indian Kenyan in a photography shop in Tottenham Court Road, looking
longingly at a television documentary of Kenya, says to the West Indian
and Arab, who share the store with him: “I’m India; never been to
India, but love Kenya, yeah?” He then turns to serve the British blonde.
a few words by a girl on a cellphone; watch her biting her lips in
disappointment—it is apparent that the love of her life can’t see her
tonight, that she will in the end be dumped.
your eyes as camera shutters. Make the backdrop a twilight rush hour in
rain, neon signs, a carnival movement of umbrellas, the sounds of a lonely
saxophone echoing through a tunnel. Blink at the bold billboards tempting
you to see films, exhibitions, plays.
every corner around Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus,
there are theatres, opera houses, clubs packed out with people seeking
diversion, a fresh thought, perhaps.
stop to look at the men in black suits and tall hats outside five-star
hotels, thinking they will be there for hundreds of years, watch the
movement of a green-gold profusion of leaves, remnants of summer,
intimation of winter, on the streets.
there is the gritty reality that is homogenous, that can leech on to any
country in today’s globalised world. People living in the streets are
younger, in greater numbers, the elderly neglected, a shocking 21,500
elderly people over 65 died of the cold last winter, just 500 less than
the year before.
children are emerging illiterate after attending years of classes, people
die waiting for ambulances, burglars knife people to death, a black
teenager is shot in a drive-by shooting in Nottingham, people are becoming
more obese then ever, up to 20 per cent of this population is shut out
through ignorance and poverty to opportunity, experience, education.
Tony Blair’s governance, modern life is defined by uncertainty, and
anxiety. One journalist who has voted Labour his entire life (and he’s
61) says, “I feel as if the tide has gone out and I am the only one
standing on the shore saying ‘where is everyone?’”
values are unrecognisable as this city becomes like so many others
worldwide, under threat of terror, overtaken by technology, with
fragmented families, isolated individuals, fewer children, an ageing
society. All certainties have vanished.
the one element that will keep the soul of this city, and country, alive
is the dialogue. Student queues snake down several streets to listen to a
lecture on “the new world society,” the Booker Prize for Literature;
and the Turner Prize for Art receive enormous attention—a play with
imaginary dialogue featuring Bush and Blair is sold out for months in
remain the voice of the people. Whole pages are filled with protests over
more British troops being deployed there, with increasing evidence of the
facile men who play with the lives of other people’s sons.
what’s Port-of-Spain like? Asks a friend.
very similar to London. We, too, live in terror, our artists too flourish,
but our murder rate is four times yours.”