Archive for September, 2008
First sunny weekday in what feels like months despite the continuing gloomy news, the feel on the section of the London street where I’ve been working is upbeat – even cheerful. Maybe folks are happy about all those bankers getting it . . . or maybe they see this return to 1929 as just so much hype. Maybe it’s just the sun . . . . nonetheless as i sat at the local Starbucks watching the women go by, noting that they actually made eye contact, I had to admit it was one of those days you have to love London.
Amidst all this depressing news, the re-appearance of an old Tory tradition to cheer us all up:
Love the part about Reader’s Digest, Coronation Street and chat about the weather. £80 for her and only £20 extra for him. Imagine!! Tory councillors in their home and it took an undercover reporter to get them found out! The English and sex, it is a mystery . . . .
If you haven’t seen the headlines – splashed one after the other in front of every newsagent, on the TV, radio, pretty much fucking everywhere – the dissolution of Lehman Brothers, the take-over of Meryl-Lynch by Bank of America (who only stand out in my mind because they’d put up ugly orange awnings all over New York this spring) , and Halifax by Lloyds, the near collapse of AIG – is being heralded as the harbinger of a new, 1930’s style depression.
Where the hell did this come from?
A little over a year ago, things were supposed to be just fine. The City boys were awarding themselves bigger and bigger bonuses, we were all working, albeit for lower wages, housing prices were on the up and up (for those of us who had property – those, who didn’t like yours truly, had to scramble in the ever-tighter rental market). No warning about any of this.
Now we’re cryin’ like it’s 1929.
The Tuesday morning Metro at least had a sense of humour: SACK MONDAY!! But what are we supposed to expect? Ten years depression? Bread lines? Another Adolf? I mean let’s get a grip – is this going to be worse than the late 80’s/ early 90s? it doesn’t feel anywhere near that bad – not yet at least not yet? Worse than the Open Cartel in 73? Worse than the late 40’s early 50’s when rationing was still in place and basic infrastructure that had been destroyed in the Blitz had yet to be restored?
Someone had enough lolly to pick up Damien Hirst’s Taxidermy for a whopping 100 million and change. Pounds that is – nearly a quarter million US for glorified pickled herring. If there’s a better symbol of why things gotta change, then I ain’t found it.
I’m sure it ain’t gonna be good for the next little while. But they haven’t been great for a lot of people for a long time. The best scenario I could see would be to return to some pre-turbo-capitlistic phase where the state had some say in running the economy and actually took care of it’s citizens. Wait, you say – the welfare state didn’t work! State intervention didn’t work!
Oh, and turbo-capitalism does?
Went to the Marlborough Arms up on Torrington Place (near Goodge street) yesterday. Bank holiday afternoon, hardly anyone around. Music burbling non-intrusively in the background. Might have been hanging out twenty years ago, back when the Arms was my local and I lived in a squat across the street.
Back in the day, we used the Arms so much we called it the living room. Our squat in the red-stone building across the street had no heat, and you could hang around the Arms all afternoon nursing a pint and reading the papers left around on the tables. They had big couches and you could lie back on, and even fall asleep if the bartender was feeling indulgent. The place hadn’t been renovated in years and the couches, chairs and even the couch had huge bald patches in them, as if they’d attacked by mange, but the decay was part of the attraction – like it was in so many places in London in those days.
It had a reputation as an old lefty icon, and I’d heard some of the people who went to lead liberation movements in Africa and Asia used to drink there – I guess they’d been students at the University of London. I never found out any names, or if this was even true, but I did meet an old Stalinist at the bar once. He was from Glasgow originally and had been hounded out of Scotland because of his activities with the party. I fancied myself an anarcho-syndicalist at the time, but I wore a hammer and sickle earring in one ear as a sort of joke and one night at the bar he pointed at it and started yelling at me: “That’s the symbol of the worker’s and peasant’s party . . . ”
Commie or not, he was a good old guy. He worked as an accountant and lived in a basement flat in the apartment house across the street, the twin to the one where we had our squat. He usually came in early in the evenings and stayed until closing, drinking at the bar and talking to whoever came along and playing the fruit machines. When I asked him what the Party thought of him playing fruit machines, he glanced at me wryly, “they don’t approve, I’m afraid.” Glasnost was still all over the news and he thought Gorbachev was ‘interesting’ and hoped he could rejuvenate Communism, but he could be testy about old Joe. He figured Sholzenytsin was a religious nut, his accounts of the Gulag not to be trusted . . . but he had to admit that Stalin had done ‘questionable things’ that perhaps he’d even betrayed the Revolution.
They ended up renovating the pub, getting rid of the old couches, putting in new carpet, and clearing out the old men. I can’t remember how it happened but my communist friend ended up getting in a fight with one of the barmen and was thrown out. I think he even tried to attack the guy across the bar – he was a tough old bastard. I didn’t see him until a few weeks later. He was leaving his flat. I was across the street and he called out: “Hello, my young anarcho-syndicalist friend!” as cheery as ever.
As a Canadian in London, I’ve always been struck how isolated we are here. Every other group – Africans, Europeans, Asians – even Americans – who comes to this city brings something of their country with them. They have their own pubs, cafes, newspapers, neighborhoods. They dominate sectors of the economy.
Look at the Aussies. They used to own Earl’s Court, now they’re out in Hammersmith, Shepard’s Bush. They have their own magazine (TNT amongst others). They have their own recruitment agencies, they started the hugely successful Gumtree. They build a home away from home.
There must be tens of thousands of Canadians in London right now, many coming for the two year work visa we’re still entitled to as children of the British Empire, and many more inheriting British citizenship through birth or, like me, through British parents (or grandparents). Yet aside from one pub, the Maple Leaf off Covent Garden (last time I was there a year ago, the clientele was entirely English), a shop, also on the market, selling overpriced Maple Syrup and Cheese Whiz, and a monthly newspaper – The Canada Post (far to the right of even the most right wing Canadian party in recent memory, the Harper Tories) – we ain’t got much presence at all.
In a way this is a good thing. We don’t travel around in packs like the Aussies, or stick to our own. We like to blend into British life and tend to stay away almost instinctively from other Canadians. Problem is, though – this city is brutal on the unconnected stranger. If you haven’t got a network here you’re basically screwed, and based on my very unscientific surveying of the Canadians I encounter here, we have a harder time because of it. We become isolated, even a little crazy – or worse, we become absurdly English and try to forget we’re even Canadian.
So Canadians In London – why do you think we don’t form groups like everyone else who immigrates to this city?
Good news on the train on the way in . . .
Tube fares to soar in the New Year. Food Prices is already risen by 8.3% this year. And some feller in the Guardian say the recession is gonna make people happier. Claims he already see it happening. Claims people are gonna go back to consuming sausage and chips (did they stop?) to save money instead of eating healthy.
Well I don’t know what Britain he’s living in, but I ain’t seeing more happy people in London. Not by a long shot.
I’m sure this sick joke of a summer is part of it – the Gulf Stream too far south this year or something. And Londoners didn’t seem happy last year either – hell, I’ve never known people in London to be happy – but they sure as hell seem a lot LESS happy now. Walking into my friendly local recruitment agency this morning was like walking into a morgue for all the glum faces – which I take to mean there’s not much recruitment going on. On the train in, aside from the ubiquitious mobile phone rabbits filling the carriage with pathic bursts of their elevated, one-sided and profoundly annoying voices, everyone looked like their favorite pet had died just that morning. With all these glum headlines – economy in worst crisis in 60 years!! Gas prices going up by a zillion percent!! Gas companies record profits (another great British tradition – screwing the common man – that has never changed at all) – you don’t have to look far to find what’s behind all these sour faces.
Fact is, you could feel the anger crackling just below the surface here even before the downturn. Wonder how things will be in six months, a year from now. And having been here for the middle of the last recession – 1991/ 92- I can say being broke back then didn’t make people happier. It made people in charge drunk with power and just plain mean. It made people depressed and desperate and anxious to get out. And people way up top made more money than ever.
But maybe the Guardian feller has a point. Not about the sausages and chips – some traditions deserve to die – but maybe an end to the good times (that weren’t that good, either here or over the pond, for a whole lot of people) might make people return to some kind of values. Might make them think about their neighbor or spend more time reading or go back to that truly great British tradition, of fucking around on the job and taking the mickey out of the boss-man and generally screwing the system as much as possible. Of not taking things too serious. Might make this a fun place to be again, instead of the turbo-capitalist rich man’s palace that London has become in latter years.
Might bring back some form of real socialism, instead of the turbo-capitalism with a PC gloss that New Labour, Livingston et al have been peddling. Might. But folks are gonna have to get real unhappy first.
What do you think, readers? Are folks getting happier because there’s a recession on? Are you happier?