Saturday, July 05, 2008

London Life

I love london, even all the things you hate, but this week I was there with someone who doesn’t and that always makes me think. The thinks that are uncomfortable make me nostalgic, though I am sure I would forget that I love the crowded overheated tube were I to move back tomorrow!
AA Gill writes; “I never weary of reminding our provincial neighbours that cities are where things happen, where culture is made, noisily, messily conceived; where it gets its tights ripped. Cities are the future: the engines that drag us all forward. If there is salvation for humanity out there, if there are going to be rainbows and new dawns and bluebirds and honey for tea, then they will be imagined, designed, manufactured, marketed and made elegant in the city….it’s not for everyone. Some people prefer nostalgia to innovation, predictabilities over fortune, soothing in place of shock, small harmonies above vast clamour. People who are easily intimidated or disappointed shouldn’t live in cities. To live in a city is a thankless gift and a surprising burden, offered to those who wish to live and fight in the front ranks, to sweat and swear and push and suck up the strain of being in humanity’s shield war. If you’re happier knitting socks, rolling bandages, making lavender sachets, then live in the country. Be a spectator. Embroider a memorial scatter cushion.”

"There comes a point for every newcomer when suddenly, irrevocably, London has got into your soul. For some, it's growling at people who stand on the left on escalators. For others, it's squeezing on to a Tube train when another will arrive in one minute. Here's an experiment anyone can try: board a train at St Pancras, weeping openly and travelling north. As you pull out of the station, nobody will notice as they unpack their laptops and grind their teeth. At Luton Airport Parkway, everyone will still be looking away. But by about Leicester, as more new passengers get on, something strange starts to happen. Concerned glances will be flicked in your direction. A tissue may be offered. By Long Eaton it becomes ok to talk; at Chesterfield somebody cracks open the little wine bottles left in the buffet carriage and by the time you reach Sheffield passengers will be joined in a rousing chorus of "I Will Survive". Now try the experiment in reverse. By the time you reach St Pancras, people "don't want to get involved".

It is not Londoners' fault that we are so mean. There are too many people here, and not enough time, and so everyone who lives in the capital is very, very busy. Add to that the self-fulfilling prophecy that only crazy people talk to each other in London and you can understand why we walk on by.

The trouble with self-preservation is that it's catching. Like the Prisoner's Dilemma, the Samaritan's Dilemma is not knowing what the other guy will do. Stop to help and you may give others the courage to join you; but stop on your own and you're a goner. The more people turn away, the more people have to turn away. It's hell out there, and for some London kids there are much worse fears than missing a Tube. But it's a London moment too far to give up altogether. Bullying and violence happen because everyone is afraid to be the only one to step forward, and politicians ought not to accept that.”


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