Archive for the ‘Misc.’ Category

Victoria Tube Station, 8:30 am.

I missed the train and caught the tube. At Brixton, the very end of the Victoria line, two tube trains were sitting in the station, packed full of passengers, with no sign of leaving. More and more people got on the trains until they were full right down the aisle while a couple of inspectors or coordinators or whatever they were strolled around trying to figure out which drivers to send to which train.

Finally one train left, another sat there as more people piled on – another train pulled in and me and a bunch of other ‘customers’ (as the euphemism has it) rushed over to get the seats before that train filled up as well – and by the time the train did pull out five minutes later, it was standing room only.

   By Victoria, four stops on, the car was so packed you could hardly squeeze through to get off the train. I followed two other passengers, a man and a woman, as they forget a path through the impossible press of bodies. You felt bad pushing through – having been on the receiving end more than once, with someone stepping on your foot – and really having nowhere to go since people are pressed in all around you. But you have to get out. Some nice London touches – the man pushing through fell over on top of a woman standing on the platform, and sort of half-embraced her to say sorry – so many times you encounter this sort of ‘we’re all in this together’ feeling in these impossible situations in London – but before I was even off the people on the platform were pressing in, pushing me backward, knocking me off balance so if I really slipped I’d be pushed under the crowd – until someone pushed me from behind and I yelled out and people gave way.

Upstairs, they’d blocked off the entrances so they could regulate the flow of people descending into the station. That is, pulled back the metal grates they use to shut off the station after closing. Outside, people were queued up around the stairwells, dozens and dozens deep, and once they opened the gates, people flooded  into the station to queue up in the hundreds in front of the ticket barriers (which, curiously, they leave open after hours at the train stations and sometimes the tube, but never at rush hour, when people have to queue dozens and dozens deep to pass through the gates).

I swore I’d never catch the tube at that time of day again. But people do it every day – stand in the aisles on packed trains with people on their mobiles yammering in their ears and the train waiting at an interminable time at the station because of some delay (‘We regret any inconvenience caused’) queuring for the ticket barriers at the train station, queueing for the ticket barrier at the tube – standing crushed together in the tube for the bruising ride to work.

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Unreal City,   60
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,  
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,  
I had not thought death had undone so many.  
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,  
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

TS Eliot, The Wasteland.

Boy, does that describe London. As it was then, so it is now . ..

I don’t understand people here. I don’t understand their coldness, the way they can be crammed so unbearably close together, yet remain so comopletely isolated – like they hardly even see each other. When I think back to the long period when I was away from London in the 90’s, it was this isolation that most scared me about this city – the fear of being swallowed by the grey, by the extreme anonymity, until I felt I hardly existed. The grey creeping into my nerves, senses, soul . . . a weight where my heart should be, congealed into grey mornings and grey afternoons . . . that monotonal emotional pitch that comes so easily to the Anglo-Sexon spirit.

This fear is a little further away now, but I still feel it. Isolation hangs about this city like the damp. When I first got back to New York this spring, one of the most intense pleasures (and pains) was being able to feel again. it was like discovering a faculty that had gone missing, like the ability to see colour after seeing only in black and white . . . I don’t remember London always being this way, but perhaps my circumstances were different before. Maybe that’s part of why people drink so much here, so they can feel again – so they can feel like they EXIST . . .

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Westminster Cathedral Tower at dusk

Westminster Cathedral Tower at dusk



That Iconic Eye

That Iconic Eye

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The Road

When all this economic tumult started I was reading Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. What a thoroughly depressing book.

The plot revolves around a man taking his son down from the cold and very arid North-Eastern US to the warmer though still very arid Soutwest US, through a landscape rendered lifeless by an unnamed catastrophe. On the way they encounter bands of cannibals who follow the roads leading katamites (sex slaves) in chains, or keep other human beings in basements chained up so they can feast on them limb by limb – hacking their limbs off while their victims are still alive, boiling  them in a pot or impaling them on stakes and so on. In one scene, man and boy stumble on a cooking pot in the woods after seeing a pregnant woman with two men trudging along the road. In the cooking pot is a newborn, evidently the woman’s.

People eat each other because every other form of life has been wiped off the face of the earth by this unnamed acopalypse, in which terrible fires swept the globe, reducing the forests to carbon, covering the planet’s surface with ash, choking even the seas. In the end, the man dies but all this grey is capped by a triumpth of love over death in the form of the man’s love for his son, a faint glimmer of hope for humanity, life, God in this love.

Yeah. Sure.

This is one of those books that, because of the author’s reputation and the apocalyptic theme, is automatically rendered ‘A Great Book’. But frankly, if you’re going to depress the hell out of me – and the thought of a future where no life exists except scattered bands of crazed human, where a woman would consign her own newborn to a cooking pot, is profoundly depressing, especially when the papers are forecasting a return to the Great Depression, as they were this fall – then it better be for good reason. And ‘The Road’ is no good reason. Basically, it is just some hokey fantasy, a ’28 Days driven by luminous prose.

Take the whole reason why people become cannibals, the unnamed Apocalypse. Only three things could render the earth so utterly desolate – nuclear war, the extreme end of global warming where methane fireballs roar off the oceans, eviscerating everything in their path, or a giant asteroid that creates a thousand year night like the asteroid that finished off the dinosaurs. In either of these three scenarios, ‘The Road’ is impossible. If we choose all-encompassing nuclear war, then the radiation would make it impossible for human beings to survive more than a few months, never mind form bands to eat each other. If it was eternal night or methane fireballs, ditto – except that I think (though I’m no biologist) that if humans could manage to live, breathe, talk – and eat each other –  in Earth’s poisoned atmosphere, then so could say grubs, cockroaches, rats, and some of kind lower form of life in the oceans. I mean we are on the very high end of the food chain after all. Okay, so maybe it wouldn’t be the greatest place to live, maybe the eatin’ could be better, but  – there would be things to eat. Roots? Termites? Slime? Maybe some humans would turn to cannibalism to supplement their diet, for kicks – some people do it now, for no reason at all – but I don’t think it would be the only choice.

The Road is a fake, like so much literature that comes out now. It has nothing to do with where are now, or where we might be in the future. One thing I hope this downturn changes is our taste for fakes –  like meaningless celebrity, they’ve reigned supreme for far too long.

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From the Telegraph: 

50 Things You Didn’t Konw About Barack Obama


 I’ll bet you really didn’t know the president-elect collects Spiderman and Incredible Hulk comics. Lord knows I didn’t.

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For things happening in Brixton and around. Photos, reviews, raves, drugs etc.


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Canadians In London

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?

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Depressing News:

Britain’s economy as bad now as it was in the 70’s

Even if the Independent likes to go for the sensational on their front covers – wasn’t it the Independent who forecast methane fireballs rising from the sea before the century is out, eviscerating all life as we know it? – things do feel slowed down. Frankly, with this sick joke of a summer, they don’t just feel down, they feel depressed. I didn’t go to the Notting Hill Carnival this year – crowds just too intense last year – but I’m sure even that felt grey.

More beggars for one thing. Even the return – admittedly only one, in the form of a short little guy with a beard and a beret who appears over and over on the train to Victoria – of aggressive begging. But you’re starting to see more beggars on the high streets, around the train stations. Regional accents mostly, but a few downtrodden Londoners.

But mostly you feel it in the job market. More ads flogging ‘fantastic’ roles for 15,000, 13,000 a year, or 7 and even 6 pounds an hour. Rents don’t seem to be going down but a few more sales for dress shirts, shoes.

But most importantly, you feel the change in the crowds. Little of the ebullience I felt when I first came back to Enterprise Britain one year and a half ago, when the little matter of all that personal debt was not considered to be a real problem, either here or in the US. Now . . . it seems to be a problem. A big problem. What do folks do when they can’t make the payments no more?

But back to the Independent article, didn’t a recent study find people in Britain were happier in the 70’s than they were now? After all, we had better art. Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola. Punk rock. Hell, even disco seems refreshing now. And we had socialism, of a sort. Whatever the flaws of the pre-Thatcher era – and they were legion – turbo-capitalism sits uneasily with the British.

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Power tools whirring and roaring in the background, plaster dust and, above all, the cloying, poisonous smell of oil paint. For all the ‘healf and safety’ they bring onto jobsites here, charging you £25 for the pleasure of writing the test, they don’t seem to give a damn about oil fumes on a jobsite. Sometimes it’s been so bad your liver actually starts to ache and everyone runs around delirious and red-faced from the fumes . . .

   I’m in the Halcyon Gallery in Mayfair . One of the foremen said they’d been working on it since March 2007, redoing the walls, putting in new floors. Spectacular staircase with iron railing and elaborate moulding around the skylight. Forgettable art – cast-iron snowbirds and some conceptual piece of hand grenades, three feet high then in done again in miniature and mounted on a length of wood – all made of coloured glass.  Neo-florentine statues made of black marble. Names like ‘Rites of Spring’. The kind of stuff that only a Russian nouveau-oligarich could love . .

   On Berkely square, a half street up, are four seperate auto dealerships – Porsche, Bentley, Jack Barclay and Rolls Royce. In the Bentley dealership the prices are listed right in the window, as if they expect people to drop in and pick up a luxury vehicle. And who knows, maybe people do . . . A Bentley coupe will set you back 141,000GBP.

    As on every jobsite, most of the guys are Polish. I thought it was a shit job, paying not nearly enough for the work involved ( knees still killing me from running up and down three flights of stairs, not to mention the unsecured scaffolding) but the Polish guys were even more unhappy about it than I was. They knew they were being underpaid, they knew the agencies were a rip-off and they hustling for something better.

    One guy said he lost everything gambling at the casinos. He had an interesting face, a nice watch and expenisve eyeglasses like he used to be someone. He’d gone through three wives, lived in Paris for years (where he also worked as a painter – said they used oil for everything – walls, ceiling). He was a photographer, but he needed to buy a good digital so he could start getting contracts again. Another guy said he’d been in London eight years, that in Poland he’d worked on surveillance towers, going up and down in a sling and been trained by the army, but that to qualify here he’d have to take a two year course. He said he’d been a trucker for awhile, and ended up driving from two am to six in the evening. “And it was a Polish guy who was the boss – they’re always the worst.” He’d been painting for a few years but, “the prices go down,” laughing, “mostly because of people like me.” Still, he’d made good money for awhile, enough to take his wife and son to Fiji. The trip had cost him seven grand GBP.

   “Why’d you want to go to Fiji?”

   He looked at me skeptically. “Why not? It was a beautiful place, I always want to go there . . . ”

   He wanted to go to Puerto Rico next. Like the other Poles, he was contemplating returning to Poland. The exchange rate – he said the pound has lost something like 50% to the euro in the last year – and the drop in wages didn’t make Britain a viable option anymore. He had friends in Manchester who made barely minimum wage . . .

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London Moments . . .

The park down Victoria Road . . .

A woman was lying in an alcove on a piece of cardboard. I’ve been seeing her around the area for a year or more. She usually pushes around a cart with the usual rags, pieces of cardboard, recyclable bottles, or half lies in one of the doorways in an office building after hours. She is a big woman with long grey hair, maybe a little crazy. Sometimes I see people talking to her, but mostly she keeps to herself, one of the many street people that call that strange anonymous area between the Houses of Parliament, Victoria and Pimlico home.

   She was lying on a piece of cardboard, staring into nothing. Around the corner, on the edge of the planter which borders the little park at the top of Stutton Ground, were three Sainsbury sandwiches, still in their boxes. I stopped, thought back to the woman, wondering if I should bother – then thought well why not. I went back and asked her if she was hungry, if she wanted some sandwiches.

   She looked at me with just a touch of concern:

   “Oh no love, I was the one put them out. If you’re hungry, help yourself lad, don’t be shy – that’s what I put them there for, for people to come and ‘ave ’em.”

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