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.
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.