In City AM this morning: Jobless nearing 2 million
That’s just to September. I’m sure it’s worse now. Somehow, these figures don’t really convey what’s happening. For this hombre, it’s been very difficult to find work in the UK since September and it feels like everything is just locked down. Possibly this is partly psychological – headlines blaring 1929 Redux for two weeks straight are bound to have an effect – but talks of a ‘looming’ recession are bogus. The recession, in the UK at least, is very much now.
I’ve never known this country in boomtimes. Just one month after I moved here in 1987, Black Monday hit and thus began the last prolonged downturn. I lasted here another couple of years – and I have to admit the first couple of years weren’t bad at all. For a young guy like myself, in London, work was pretty easy to find and if the pay wasn’t great there was always the dole. And squatting. Not having to pay rent made it easy to live in London.
But by 89, you could feel the gloom which had suffocated the rest of the country since the 70’s closing in and by 91, when I came back, London was just plain depressed. The only job I could get was Roadsweeping in SE London. I met guys there who had mortgages, car payments to make, who’d made a good living as satellite dish installers or other service jobs, who were working 92 hour weeks sweeping roads just to make the bills. The IRA was in full swing and every other day the tube or the trains shut down because of a bomb threat. A permanent gloom seemed to hang over the city. The experience was so depressing I didn’t come back for nearly three years.
By the mid-90’s the gloom wasn’t so thick but it wasn’t great here. Jobs weren’t easy to find and people were still by and large depressed. Service was non-existent. Ask a question in shop, pub, at work and the inevitable response was a blank look, followed by a sort of whining ‘don’t konw’. No one wanted to be bothered. Even by 97, on my next trip back, things didn’t seem much better.
But when I returned in 2000, London seemed an entirely different city. More outgoing for one – people did seem to look at each other on the street then, to have some contact in bars and pubs. The food had improved dramatically – in my week back, I didn’t have one bad meal and everyone I knew here had good jobs, was making enough – and yet London itself hadn’t changed a great deal, so you could still find the old neighborhoods, the old pubs, the litle cafs. London felt exciting again, an echo of the city I first expereinced back in 87.
I’m sorry now I didn’t move back here sooner. By the time I got here in 2006, the city had changed again. You could just feel the gloom starting to set in – the pay didn’t match the prices and there was a sense of a society spilling out of control with the insane binge-drinking, the rise in popularity of drugs like cocaine (cocaine! So very 80’s! So very boring!). Little things, like the independent bookshop closing down in the St. James Mall, that last independent sort of store in the area.
And more than that, a general unhappiness. People here seemed deeply unhappy. This is a very unhappy society – you only have to look at the children, possibly the most miserable I’ve seen anywhere – to realize that. I wonder if the recession will bring out a different sort of spirit here, and where this city will be in two, three years time.