London: a rant.

Anarchism & Activism, England
Protesters at Piccadilly Circus last year

Protesters at Piccadilly Circus last year

I loathe London. I lived there for a decade. I did my time there, I lived on both sides of the river, I knew the city. So now I feel that it is my right to loathe it!

Why do I dislike London so much? Maybe my views are tainted by the past – by memories of the old me. But mostly I dislike London because it is the epitome of the capitalist system.

Anarchist writer Paul Cudenec puts it perfectly:

For an anarchist, the tender green shoot of each new-born child, the precious potential of each wonderfully unique and beautiful human being, is blocked, crushed, destroyed by the steel toe-capped boots of capitalism.

It is here, in London, where decisions are made and deals are done; deals which impoverish people throughout the world; decisions which enable the burning of the planet and the colonising of countries’ resources. London is the home of arms dealers, money launderers and a mass media which ensures that the public remain subservient and ignorant. And every time I am on the train after having spent time in the city, I feel a deep sense of unease, a horrified feeling that everything is so fucked up.

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And, of course, I hate London because it is also the consumerist capital of the world. A place where people go to spend. And it’s the city where so many young people move to, straight out of university, in order to work 40 hours a week and get a CAREER. I did it for years, in a corporate media which I now despise. “So, what do you DO?” is the second question that someone will ask you when they meet you for the first time (after asking you your name).

And, obviously, London is awful because the politicians are there.

Rewind to a couple of days ago, and Chris and I are passing through London. We decide to walk from Paddington to Victoria, rather than getting the Tube. Our evening stroll takes us down Park Lane, where rich people stay at the Grosvenor and drink extortionately priced cocktails. As we pass the insanely wealthy, we suddenly come across ten people, all laying next to each other under blankets, all homeless. The juxtaposition of the two scenes shocks me, and I think again, this is so fucked up. What I find most disturbing is that the rich people drinking their cocktails on the Park Lane pavement don’t seem to realise how fucked up it is. For them, it’s just the way things are. And just metres from where the homeless are laying, we pass a house with chandeliers glimmering from inside.

We arrive in Victoria and are about to get onto our train when we see a man on the station concourse, laying on the cold floor with his eyes closed. He’s not moving. Someone approaches him and asks, “Are you ok, mate?” Having seen that the man is breathing, he says, “He’s conscious!” and rushes off to get his train. Another reason why I dislike London: people don’t have any time for each other. Chris and I kneel next to the man. Chris tries to get him to talk, but we don’t really get a response and don’t know what to do. Suddenly a young couple come over, and the woman immediately does a much better job than us. She sits with the man, puts her face near to his to hear what he is murmering. She gives him water. She says sympathetic words. All the while, her male companion is standing there, huffing, saying, “Jo! Come on!” He’s looking at the train departures board, horrified that he’s going to miss his train. He continues, “Jo! Let’s get the station guard! We can’t do anything!” She ignores him. I say to the impatient man, “The station staff won’t help him. They’ll chuck him on the street or call the police.” The woman continues to kneel patiently with the man, and having persuaded him to sit up, she tries to find out if she can put him on a train, or if he has any friends. He mutters to her, “Death”. She asks him why he would say that word, and he replies, “No-one needs me”. She looks him in the eye, sees that he is lonely, in pain. He is drunk, but still in need. Her male companion is looking flustered and mutters about calling the station guard again. He can only see a drunk nuisance on the floor. The woman talks to the man in pain, patiently gives him her empathy and kind words, and the man starts to smile. She eventually persuades him to stand up, just as one of the station staff comes over and sternly tells us that they have informed the security guards about the man, who are going to “deal with him”. The woman’s compassion towards the stranger has probably saved him from the security guards, who would have also seen a nuisance and not a fellow human being. She gives him a hug. He murmers “thank you” to her with a big smile. They hug again: the woman in expensive clothes and manicured nails, who could well have been socialising on Park Lane that evening, embracing the lonely man with red wine down his shirt. And I feel hope. Maybe things are not so fucked up.

8 thoughts on “London: a rant.

  1. Hya Lisa…whenever I go to london, the capital of capitalism, I also feel it throttling me, like chains tightening around my throat and have similar issues with the place to yourself, I also spent a good 6 years living there. However, i’m also very proud of and grateful to London, it’s the place where i discovered how to be alternative, to be poor and creative and happy with little. Where i learnt about anarchism and community and Cooperative living, where i found freedom in the squatting laws (bastard Tories put a stop to that!) London is massively cosmopolitan and accepting of other cultures compared to many other cities around the world) despite that things are getting worse with immigration laws and that all the tabloids appear to be inciting racial and class hatred, the diversity and culture are better than in many places (in the rest of England) and I heard in Paris that discrimination and segregation are so bad there that in certain poor suburbs there are tanks parked the whole time to keep ‘immigrants’ and ‘racial minorities’ under control. My feeling is that things are getting worse tho, like the law that means we can know longer protest freely in the city, that we can no longer protest in parliament square, that we can no longer squat, the fact charities and ngo’s can no longer raise money to lobby during elections. But the veil has been lifted to an extent, people are realising we don’t live in a democracy after all, and this knowing has a strangely liberating feeling to it…but i do know what you mean, whenever go back there now, more than ever I feel the dark stain of greed and global corruption tainting the grey streets. But we have also to be grateful for what we have because it could be so much and probably will get so much worse. The more they feel power slipping away the more they will try to grip on to it with all their might…viva la Revelation!

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    1. Hi, yes sadly there is racism in France, the UK and the rest of Europe but thankfully no tanks in the suburbs of Paris as someone inaccurately told you.

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  2. First of all… You are in London!!! Can I see you? Secondly, I loved your writing, particularly the story of the lady helping the man. It’s easy to feel alone in London, as in any large city. But some people do really care. I am glad that man got at least a little kindness; when a person is at their lowest ebb, it can be the meaning between life and death. A few kind words and a little time isn’t an expensive commodity… It infuriates me when I see someone who needs help and everyone walks on by. I see some of the worst and best in people in London: carrying a baby with me really shows me what humanity can be. Some people fall over themselves to help me, offer me a seat (I carry my baby in a rucksack on my back) or retrieve his shoes that he delights in kicking off. Some people make my life harder by criticising my parenting (no, Seb doesn’t need a hat as it’s baking, but thanks for making me feel like a bad mother), purposefully walking into me or just being plain rude. Ignoring the rich and the selfish, London can be a beautiful place to live… I love the free museums, the parks, especially Greemwich Park and the friendliness of strangers, although I know that is mostly down to Seb. I miss the sense of community that I had in the country, but London isn’t so bad! X

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  3. Thanks sharing your point of view and story, Yes there are lots of beautiful and kind of people around, we will make it πŸ™‚ it got me emotional with the story… love xx

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  4. Hi Lisa,
    What a superb text. I believe hear you as you were near of us.

    But I wonder where’s exactly is the problem.

    You describe London with (wo)men inside…

    What could be London without (wo)men inside ?
    And (wo)men without London ?

    Is London that make (wo)men like that or (wo)wen that make London like ?

    May be both or something else πŸ˜‰
    Woaine’ll e pleased to see you ag
    Cheers

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  5. I am now pootling to the West End daily for work (I hope what I do is both decent and useful – although it’s hard to tell these days). My girlfriend lives deep in the City where we regularly use the Glastonbury Steward’s technique to wake up passed-out bankers dangerously drunk on the pavement… it’s notable that they never have the decency to say “thank you”.
    I find London (especially the City, but also the hyper-wealthy enclaves) both sad and worrying at the moment. I think it’s impossible to walk past the dramatic cityscape without a sinking feeling of impotence. They have it all sewn up; they’ve owned so much, for so many years. Shouting for change is exactly equivalent to repeatedly bashing your head against the Georgian splendour of one of the Duke of Westminster’s perpetually rented-out mansions in Mayfair…
    You may like this link: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2014/04/a-nation-of-slaves.html

    We should figure out how to meet up soon! x

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