Category: London Behaviour

London: It’s only sleeping

London: It’s only sleeping

I just took Bucket the dog, or Nanuk the snow dog of the north as she is currently known, for a walk in the snow. People complain that we never get snow in London and that every day seems the same during lockdown. We can, at least, thank a dump of white powder to mix things up a little. Let’s have a six-foot snow drift I say. (Never going to happen). Nobody needs to go anywhere; stay at home and enjoy it, though I was a little confused by those who were jogging and cycling, not to say motor bikin’. Maybe some broken ankles presenting at St Thoms today.

I love the audio change that snow brings, how everything goes quieter. The sounds are muffled, and the mess of London is covered until the big melt happens which should be along in about an hour. Get out quick if you want to have fun.

Being outside with everyone acting like kids throwing snowballs and building snowmen got me thinking about London. Passing through the centre of town on my bike, as I did yesterday, and there it is: Shutdown, empty, dead, a ghost town. People don’t generally live in the centre; this is where we work and party and for now, at least, it’s gone. Many are worried about it coming back. While I miss it, I don’t share those fears. London is just sleeping but, when it does wake up, I know it won’t be the same.

For me, Soho has long been the centre of the universe where I’ve headed for more than 40 years to meet friends, have fun, misbehave and generally enjoy the cut and thrust of the greatest city on the planet. The writer Ian Dunt calls it the ‘riot of life’. Soho has been boarded up for almost a year with a brief reprise over the summer when the restaurants opened and we were able to sit outside in the streets, enjoy the sun, the food and the company. The pandemic forced this change, and it is to these sorts of changes we will need to look over the coming years.

The Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence (ESCoE) recently published their findings on the effects the pandemic is having on the population. They estimate, with all the usual caveats, that London may have lost more than 700,000 people in the last year. They say that much of it may be temporary if non-UK born people return to London after the pandemic; but it may not. Brexit now means that many of those who lived here, but have returned to their home countries, would now find re-entry far more challenging. They have to apply for work permits and settled status and the bar may have been raised too high for many to return.

As the ESCoE point out, inner London lost more than 20% of its population during the 1970s and the picture of sustained growth driven by international migration is relatively recent. Arriving in 1977, I was bucking the trend.

But it won’t be just those from outside the UK who are leaving. The Evening Standard regularly publishes articles with headlines like: ‘Half of Londoners have considered leaving capital due to coronavirus, study finds’ and ‘Why I swapped Soho for Somerset’. I’ve long argued this is a good thing. Trapped in London, most likely because of your job, is no way to live. Don’t live in London if you don’t like it and the proliferation of home working mean that, if work means staring for long hours at a computer, many can do just that.

There were reasons to leave before the pandemic: ridiculously expensive housing, cramped studio flats, packed tube trains and the general hassle of city life. Now, why live in London when it’s shut, where accommodation is still expensive and there’s nothing going on?

In many ways I think those in the countryside during lockdown are better off. But London is just sleeping and one day it will wake up. There will be a lot of empty shops and offices and fewer Pret a Mangers, Costas and Cafe Neros, but there will be room for new ideas, new ways to live and grow. It may take a while but I’m betting on London to take us on a journey into the future in ways we can’t see right now. I was going to set down what changes I could foresee but futurology is a moribund sport and I’m bound to get it all wrong.

As John Lennon sang:

Everybody seems to think I’m lazy
I don’t mind, I think they’re crazy
Running everywhere at such a speed
‘Til they find there’s no need (there’s no need)

Please, don’t spoil my day, I’m miles away
And after all I’m only sleeping

I’m looking out the window and the snow is beginning to melt. In a month or two Spring will be upon us, the vaccines will surely be making a difference and London will wake, take stock, shake itself and lead us into the future. The pandemic has forced a reset upon us. The future, no doubt with a few missteps, is beckoning and will take us all by surprise.

Perhaps you’re a young person wondering what life might hold for you. London may not look like much of a prospect right now but keep an eye on it and when the pandemic hibernation is over, if you have the inclination, the drive and the hutzpah then perhaps you should give it a go. It won’t be easy; you won’t be welcomed with open arms, but you won’t be rejected either. Come here and right away you’ll be another Londoner trying to get ahead.

Can we put the civil back in civil society?

Can we put the civil back in civil society?

‘Why do we scream at each other? This is what it sounds like, when doves cry’. Prince

The culture wars, from Brexit to Trump and beyond, have driven deep wedges between different sections of society. We now communicate on cultural and political issues with the caps lock PERMANENTLY ON. This is most obviously played out in the snake pit of social media, but it can also result in a cab driver screaming at a bicyclist (me). We seem to operate on a very short fuse or in many cases on no fuse at all. We blow up in each other’s faces.

Whether social media has caused this or whether it just provides the perfect forum for abuse is tough to say.

I remember when we first came back to London having lived in Asia for eight years, being struck by the latent anger that everyone seemed to carry about with them. Asia is quite different, and people don’t tend to lose their shit in a microsecond. If you start screaming at people out East then their reaction is generally no reaction and if you are screaming at them to get something done, then good luck, because you’ll get nothing. Unfortunately, the anger I noticed in London on my return is still there, but now I just take it for granted.

Perhaps social media has jacked us all up to screaming pitch, but I wonder if there is any way we can disagree with a little more courtesy.

If you go back to my second Little London Life blog titled ‘Hey Londoners: Be better’, I was talking about something similar.

It’s embarrassing to admit that there are many people in my part of London who I meet and interact with on a regular basis, but about whom I know absolutely nothing. I may well see them more often than I see my friends, but I don’t even know their names. It works like this.

 Perhaps you’ve found a café that sells a decent flat-white close to your office, you generally get served by the same bloke who becomes ‘your barista guy’. You are starting to behave like an aloof millionaire not wanting to interact with the servants – despite only having £10 in your bank account to last you to pay day. You are morphing into that person you hate, the one who is unpleasant to waiters.

I ended the piece by saying: Be better, be courteous.

Recently, I was listening to Politics on the couch, a podcast by Rafael Behr and he came up with an interesting analogy. Global warming has heated the seas and when the water becomes too warm, corals will expel the algae living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. It’s called coral bleaching and the coral will likely die. Our public discourse, and yes, I am thinking of President Trump, is now so heated that it’s bleaching out our ability to have civil conversation.

I may profoundly disagree with your politics and you with mine, but we have to find a way to have a conversation without screaming at each other. When you scream nobody is listening and the culture war wedge is driven that little bit deeper into our already divided society.

It may seem incredibly old fashioned but courtesy and civility lie at the heart of a decent society. Why do we scream at each other? Let’s talk instead.

Blasting guns from a Thames barge

Blasting guns from a Thames barge

It was the kind of email I would have deleted in a microsecond in normal times. A scrappy piece of marketing bollox that found its way to my already crammed email in-box suggesting I shoot guns from a boat on the Thames.

Whoever sent me the ‘Clay pigeon shooting fun day on the Thames’ which promises guns, instructors, clays and beer probably broke GDPR restrictions. Not really the thing I could imagine myself signing up to given I have a deep loathing of guns of any kind. If this was meant to be targeted marketing, it missed the bullseye by a mile.

But wait a minute, (brain becomes feverish due to lack of activity) they’re offering bacon rolls on arrival and hold on, we’re in complete lockdown. Have these charlatans found a way that I can legally take a trip on a Thames sailing barge, blast a 12 bore over the side and drink beer for three hours? Well, of course the answer to those questions is no, no and no.

Close scrutiny reveals that the fun day is planned for May of this year and the beer and guns are not a cocktail that’s allowed to mix. Damn spoilsports they’re also depriving me of a ‘hot fork buffet lunch’ (not entirely sure what that is) while taking a breather from terrorising other boats  and wildlife just beyond the Thames Barrier and all for just £299 plus VAT. Now what am I doing in May? Looks at blank diary. Where’s the sign-up sheet?

All the things I love are shut

All the things I love are shut

Here are some of them:

  • Ronnie Scott’s Club
  • 606 Club
  • Tate Britain
  • My gym
  • Franco Manca (Victoria Branch)
  • Brixton Ritzy
  • Banh Banh (Brixton)
  • Natural History Museum
  • Clapham Picture House
  • St John’s Smith Square

Don’t worry this is no anti-lockdown, anti-vax, Bill Gates and 5G Networks control the world rant, it’s just me listing and missing what I love. Make no mistake I’ll be rolling up my sleeve to receive a vaccine as soon as one is on offer.

I’ve lived in central London for most of my life because I love it. I’ve always felt sorry for those who were forced to live in town, hated it, but had to do so because of their job. Then I’d say well at least you’ve got live music, theatre, museums to which many would reply well I don’t go to them much anyway. Now I hear several of my friends and colleagues are moving out of town because they’re working from home and will be for the foreseeable future. And those who had three-hour daily commutes are spared that grind and can remain rural. Covid has put rocket boosters on remote working and we’ll be living with the consequences for many years, many of which are not all bad.

As for me, will I be moving to the countryside? Not a chance. I like to take trips out of town on a weekend but come Sunday evening it’s time to head back to civilisation. The problem is of course that civilisation as I know and like it is pretty much closed.

First bike ride of 2021

I’ve just come back from my first bike ride of 2021. A 17K spin around Pimlico, Victoria, Hyde Park, Oxford Street, Chancery Lane, the City, over Blackfriars Bridge and home to the Oval. I’ve never seen London so empty, which is a big fat lie as it was just as empty in March when I was doing the same ride albeit in more pleasant early Spring weather. Despite there being virtually no cars, I still manged to give a Black Cab driver apoplexy with him shaking his fist at me for reasons I’m a little hazy about. One of the things he probably hates are all the new cycle lanes that have popped up all over town. They are a godsend to us two wheelers and another unexpected Covid bonus, though that’s not a view often shared by the four-wheel community. You can now pedal safely up Park Lane which used to feel like joining an F1 starting grid.

Low-traffic neighbourhood

We now live in a new low-traffic neighbourhood which means our streets have become virtually pedestrianised. I see families with very young kids pedalling around in safety in a way that could never have happened before. Once again car drivers don’t much like the look of LTNs, but to me they are another bit of lockdown luck. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-car, I don’t own one, but we use Zip cars on a regular basis.

I always detest January and February; they seem to holdout so little chance for fun. This year more so than ever. Mrs Preen is engaged in dry January which always seems such a poor month to stay off the booze. I’ll be endeavouring not to drink during the week but may get on the outside of the good stuff over the weekend.

This seems rather a bleak post to start the New year, but with vaccines ready to be jabbed into our arms things will hopefully improve and perhaps 2021 will be a Happy New Year even if it takes a little time for the happiness to arrive. I’m sat here waiting for London to wake up once again.