Friday, April 22, 2011

London, January 2011

I spent a couple of days in London back in January. This is the third time that I visited London in 4 years. The first time was a quick in and out trip and I took on the role of a tourist with no time to waste -- I shot through all the major tourist sites within 8 hours. I hated the city, I thought it was a bit of a dump: dirty, loud, rude and expensive.

In my second trip, I took on the role of a tourist with a little bit more time. I had about 3 days on my hands, and again tried to absorb the cityscape and scenery. I met up with a few friends and discussed good old times. I visited the residential areas like Clapham, as well as some other tourist areas like Picadilly Circus, Marble Arch and Hyde Park. I also spent some time off of the beaten track in King's Wood. While my perceptions of the city improved, it did not materially change. To me it was still an overcrowded and dirty dump, albeit a cosmopolitan one.

My third visit was again a short one. A business trip plus a weekend with which to do a little people watching. This time, I saw London as a keen and curious observer. My subject is no longer the architecture (which, frankly, is getting quite boring by now), but the people of this megatropolis.

London Bridge & Tower Bridge


Borough Market

Tate Modern

 Millenium Bridge

St. James Cathedral

Kingswood Station

My perceptions of London is changing. The character is unquestionable. Without a doubt, there is a lot of history and culture. This is evident in the Victorian architecture and the sheer number of museums, art galleries and theatres. It is a modern city that has preserved much of its history.

There is a lot to offer. Modern sky scrappers such as The Gherkin (Swiss Re. Tower) and The Inside Out building (Lloyds) co-exist within one mile of the Tower Bridge. Quintessential calm nestled within the excitement of a buzzing city.

It has its fair share of problems. The most important District and Circle lines have been closed on two of the three occasions that I was there, hardly acceptable for a world-class city. Gangsterism is getting more pervalent amongst the youth. The NHS is hardly functioning. Education is bordering on crisis levels for a developed country. Income taxes are one of the highest in the world. The government has also recently increased VAT to 20%. Alcohol and drug abuse is the new trend.

The average Joe appears to be content, but not truly happy. Life appears to be routine but there is also a trace of palpable and uneasy energy. The inhabitants wear perpectual frowns. I don't blame them: their economy is going through one of the worst recessions since WW2. The Pound Sterling has depreciated close to 30% since 2008. Unemployment is at one of the highest levels in recent history. The public is pressuring the government to put serious restrictions on immigration and foreign workers. The country is going into self-preservation mode.

And the climate is still kinda shite. And that will never change.

It is not a friendly city by any means. Generally, Londoners mind their own business: they don't want to know you, and sure as hell don't want you to know them. The London Underground slogan certainly rings true: Mind the Gap. This is unsurprising for a city a size of London.

So, it is still a bit of a dump: dirty, loud, rude and expensive, but a dump that has a little soul and character.