I was asked what a visitor might expect to find in London and write about it. The following is a purely subjective, and as such limited, view in which I will probably (almost certainly) upset particular groups/sections/parties by mentioning them and equally upset others by not mentioning them. Their measure of anger/distress/affront is of no concern to me. It is not that I am uncaring in general, but if I try to consider all those who I may anger/distress/affront, I would never write anything. I won’t apologise for my words. The words are mine, from my own perspective and experience and I am fully entitled to my express my views in a free, democratic, liberal society as you are perfectly entitled to rebut them.
London is a huge, cosmopolitan sprawl set in protected green area of the south of England with the tidal river Thames at its heart. It is a comparatively green city with plenty of trees and parks not least surrounding the grand palatial homes of the Queen and her extensive family. In Central London, there are theatres and museums, art galleries, restaurants, hotels and shops of enormous variety. Everything one would wish for in a city break holiday. Every cuisine from Chinese and Korean to Japanese (travelling west). There is modern art, portraiture, textiles, statuary, traditional masters, conceptual visual and audio exhibitions from all corners of the globe, enough to satisfy any taste.
The architecture is rather a mixture – from the ancient Tower of London on the northern banks of the Thames to the ultra-modern Shard across the river. The skyline is still dotted with the wonderful spires of Wren, albeit one must search for them nowadays amongst the high-rise buildings. In recent years financial buildings of Victorian splendour have given way to shining new steel and glass towers that dominate the obsolete docklands and old city area; blocks of apartments rise on all sides casting deep shadows onto the pedestrians below and many of the old houses are now converted into tiny flats and bed-sits. Flats comprise just over half of London’s accommodation and first-time owner occupiers have been in the minority since the early 1980s. To live in London you need to have to have a very, very good income, or you will be relegated to the suburbs in rented housing where you will still need a very good income, or you will live in a privately/state owned rented slum where you will survive on the most miserly government handout whilst working for zero-hours contractors like Uber. I’m not saying there aren’t nice places to live but the costs are exorbitant. Apartments in the centre cost millions, houses tens of millions, a small apartment (one bedroom) a million plus. Rents are astronomical too and it’s the reason why you may have as many as ten people or more sharing a bedroom, working days and nights. Those lucky few who owned property before the 1980s have seen their homes increase in value 3000%, many are property rich/cash poor and can hardly afford to maintain them. Not enough housing has been built for decades and additional numbers moving into the city have offset those who moved out. There are nearly 9 million people living in the Greater London area (1,569 km²), not a lot by some standards; Mexico City has the same number in 1,485 km² and Tokyo has 13.6 million people for its 2,188 km² of space.
The roads, like in all cities, are congested and the air polluted; the streets are dirty and litter/refuse everywhere. Before the Clean Air Act 1956, London was famous for its ‘pea-soupers’ – fog combined with smoke to form a lethal smog which killed thousands; now there are invisible killers from traffic pouring out carbon monoxide-CO, hydrocarbons-HC, particulate matter-PM and nitrogen oxides-NOx. Crossing the roads is a risky business on foot with cyclists, buses, trucks and cars determined to travel at more than the average 8mph. The underground or ‘tube’ is the fastest way to get around (although you don’t see very much). Excepting delays and the odd terrorist bomb etc. the tube is easy to navigate, quick and the service brilliant outside of rush-hours, when it can be rather tricky. In contrast, you can catch a Thames ferry boat/taxi if you prefer it and the sightseeing opportunities are great.
Multi-culturalism was born in London. Wherever you go you hear and see people of all nationalities. They don’t always mix well but overall, most are tolerant of each other – perhaps excepting certain groups in which minorities love to cause trouble. Jewish, White British, Muslim and West Indian populations (to name a few) all have their clusters of intolerance. There are areas in which one could feel intimidated if of another subset, there are yet more that welcome you. Londoners are notorious for avoiding eye-contact. New York (USA) was the epitome of this social phenomenon wherein taking any notice of other people around you is suppressed. It was said that if you dropped dead on the streets of New York people would walk over you, now London seems to have picked up the mantle. It’s an exaggerated claim but recognisable, especially if you come from the north of England (like me) and are used to chatting to the person next to you in a queue or shop etc. Don’t be put off by this, Londoners are very happy to help when requested, unless they’re in a hurry, or busy, or it’s raining, or they are on their phones, or….
There is much to like about London and much to deplore, which can be said of towns and cities everywhere. People are ultimately the same. Enjoy your visit.
Writer: Kay Saxon
The writer is a UK based columnist and commentator with THE PASHTUN TIMES. She is graduated from the University of Central Lancashire, North of England. She can be reached at