Like any great city London attracts tourists and I’ve enjoyed chatting with them on warm summer evenings over a pint. I recall an American submariner who’s boat had moored up in the South of France and who had hitch hiked his way up to London. Standing outside the Three Greyhounds, a mouse slid off the roof and landed in his pint with a plop.
Back then the south bank was not fully open and, as I cycled the stretch between Tower Bridge and Waterloo, I was often forced to pick up my bike and climb ancient stone steps. As the wealth of London waxed it was tarted up. The South Bank was made more accessible, Tate Modern popped into existence and The Oxo tower morphed from ancient relic to fashionable restaurant. All this “Urban Regeneration” was funded by development trusts and public money with the best intentions and in many ways it’s fantastic but London’s becomming a bloody theme park! It even has a Big Wheel and a Cable Car!
Something has been lost. I liked living in a ramshackle and chaotic city where much of the commerce resided at a human level. The Oxo Tower and Bankside Power Station were not “accessible” but they were iconic parts of the landscape along with Battersea Power Station which is now so besieged by luxury apartments that it is near invisible. I loved the way London had not been planned and designed but was a teetering balance between entropy and creativity. I realise that this is not a popular view; the majority of people embrace this new wipe clean world where art is delivered like pizza or football.
Tate Modern has even found a way of ensuring that the dullest and most disinterested are exposed to modern art – and their experiences monetised.
The Garden Bridge will be yet another vanity project using public money to build tourists attractions causing congestion and generating profit for big-corp.
Using the very space itself as a commodity to be milked for profit degrades the environment for residents and tourists alike. Last December a cheese festival was “brought to a standstill” partly by overcrowding and at Christmas it was impossible to walk on the pavement down Regent Street for the hoards of City-Breakers trudging their way through the freezing cold to tick another item off their fucking “bucket list”.
On Friday I attended The headstrong Club in Lewes which was discussing an Unconditional Basic Income and the subject of the 18th century Enclosures came up. The Enclosures involved the rich enclosing and taking possession of land which was formerly regarded as common land.
In the late 20th century enclosure went further with the commercialisation of public space, first for advertising, then for retail and then to exploit the growing tourist trade.
So whereas before, residents enjoyed shared use of the land they lived in, now Londoners are forced to compete with a transitory population of over 17 million. More than twice the residet population! This month The Economist reported that New Zealanders too are becomming frustrated that every beauty spot is blighted by a bus load of selfie taking day trippers. The fact that we have all been tourists makes us complicit and prevents us protesting so the gradual degradation of our environment continues without comment. While we claim to respect the environment we only really think about climate change and trendy ethnic disputes. We’ll readily direct our hate online against the Keystone Pipeline as it’s thousands of miles away but the residents of Harlow North can be quietly ignored. It is a culture of double-think. We claim to worship individuality and diversity but in reality we herd together to worship a handful of individuals and opinions. I guess fashion was ever thus but it seems more fine tuned these days.
We live in a culture where legions of “creatives” work to portray herd mentality as individuality.
Lately this is done in such a formulaic and calculated way as to produce grotesque results. Watch any documentary on gardening or antiques and note the caricatures created by the costume department guided by a checklist of over used clichés. This is what happens when we stop thinking and just follow the herd. This is what happens when a twenty something wardrobe assistant with a degree in film making and a hangover gets told to dress an old bald git to look like an antique dealer.
We live in an age of bullshit but the good news is that we may have just passed Peak Bullshit. Last week a billionaire was elected president of the United States on a platform of representing the common people. Surely the tide must soon start to turn!
As usual Science Fiction authors are the only people with the imagination and understanding to get what I’m on about. This time it’s Michael Moorcock from his 2015 novel The Whispering Swarm.