SLOG ON TOUR: Pottering about in Pottersville

pottersvilleWalking across Waterloo station last Saturday in the early evening gave me an eerie feeling of having popped a mind-altering pill about twenty minutes earlier. Rushing towards and then past me was an army of gargoyles variously guffawing, squinting, and frowning. Thin-lipped with tension, they dashed, veered, wobbled and sipped from what has become the ubiquitous water bottle. Everybody under forty carries spring water now, as if they might be the marathon runners or Tour de France cyclists of life….a life somehow made more frantic by technology and deregulated employment.

Their dress choice was variously inappropriate, scruffy, unwise, ill-fitting, poor quality, and at times oddly ascetic. But this was the preface to Saturday night, and every face radiated an anxious determination to enjoy.

How any of them afford what it costs to have the simplest enjoyment in London today eludes me. One station venue wanted £6 for the pleasure of drinking a glass of mediocre wine while seated on a scruffy bar stool. A 1-day travel card now costs £12. The tube journey from Elephant to London Bridge costs more than a taxi did when I gave up being a Londoner sixteen years ago.

My female friend and I had decided to make the Skylon bar-restaurant our pre-party venue in order, as she put it, “not to turn up inconsiderately sober”. The wine was excellent, the price outrageous and the noise level frantic, but the company was excellent – and she insisted it was her treat. I asked her when, in her opinion, London would secede from the UK in order to officially become a City State, and instead of looking blank she offered the view that it might well implode before Mayor Johnson had arranged for such an outcome. The conversation flowed effortlessly from there.

The knees-up was only a short stroll away. I’d been invited as a sort of thank you for really doing no more than my job, and had asked the previously virtual friend to join me. Some attendees were expected, others were a surprise. There was much talk of colon cancer, bladder operations and erectile dysfunction. Also some good gags.

We took in a light dinner and more wine, gave little bits of personal history away, and then went our separate ways. It was a good evening and stimulating in many ways, but I find myself freaked by London more and more: everything is being ‘improved’ (ie, developed), but nothing seems entirely real beyond the obvious
existence of two very different nations existing cheek by jowl.

The nation hurtling towards me on the Waterloo concourse earlier was very much the underpaid, unfulfilled 70% who have been so enlivened by Jeremy Corbyn sweeping into some form of power. I relate to them infinitely more than the materialist and maxed out plastic Surrey shower: but they are quite extraordinarily ugly in many ways, and look to me like lost souls already exhausted from plodding through the bollocks they’ve been fed by the media and education systems over the last three decades.

Exiting the Elephant & Castle well after midnight, I passed the by now familiar harlie haplin pub – one of many run-down and generally unprepossessing boozers I’ve encountered over the last few days. Here too, a divide of Grand Canyon proportions has opened up between the smart gastro-pubs frequented by the well-heeled, and the big-screen-footie, pool table and two-for-one lager dives where gastroenteritis is more likely than bon-viveur food.

My daughter (a professional expert on rising London areas) thinks Elephant & Castle is up and coming, but to my eyes it felt down and almost counted out. We all have our relativities, and to be fair the new ‘Elephant Park’ development does look like a genuine attempt to lift the gloom one feels on walking through the area. Judging from the architects impressions that adorn the hoardings, however, I couldn’t help feeling that the scheme would not only lift, but also separate the desirous from the desperate further still.

Nowhere is that separation more obvious than in the never-ending stream of new shopping concept-malls sprouting up everywhere. ‘OPENING IN MARCH 2016’ one building site wall promised, ‘A VIBRANT NEW SHOPPING EXPERIENCE’. There was no expansion attempted on how exactly the vibrant consumption environment would be novel; perhaps it’s going to operate in an exciting new niche. Like designer vibrators, for example.

I plodded somewhat wearily along New Kent Road towards my billet and – while eyeing various entertainment posters – was struck once again by the stagnant nature of the arts in a neoliberally-run culture. One ad – for a US imported movie called Missing you Already – used the strapline ‘Lives fall apart, friends put it together’. It struck me as a plot idea guaranteed to make one either nod off to sleep, or vomit, or both. I imagined hot-shot lawyers having a field-day pursuing claims for choking deaths during the film.

A TV series called England 90 was about to return to Channel 4, and in theatreland there was a musical – Sunny Afternoon – about the Kinks in the 1960s, a musical experience sharing the work of Frank Sinatra in the 1950s, and a ‘new’ play about the 1960s called Kinky Boots.

Everything is new in London, but nothing is new in London. For London is the Pottersville nightmare imagined by James Stewart in the late 1940s Frank Capra classic A Wonderful Life. Potterism being for the moment in control of London’s vision, the reversion to the old days of the excluded Poor exists in surreal tandem with glitzy expressions of a corporacratic future. Looking up at The Shard rising like a Church of Mammon spire outside London Bridge station, I felt the structure needed a large label stuck onto it, bearing the warning ‘FRAGILE’.

I’ve left London now, and arrived back in Kent. There is no desire at all within me ever to return there. It used to be the United Kingdom’s capital city: it has become a place perverted by the City’s greedy desire to capture capital for the sole use of Big Globalism. And thus it is no place for real people any more.

Yesterday at The Slog: We need to find a winged Pegasus, not flog dead horses

33 thoughts on “SLOG ON TOUR: Pottering about in Pottersville

  1. ”And thus it is no place for real people any more.” – I could not agree more John.

    My sister moved to a flat in St.Georges road, about a couple of hundred yards up the road from the E&C roundabout…. She’s been there about 18 years now and in that time I’ve seen the place become more and more alienating. Last time I visited (about 18 months ago) I felt I had landed in some kind of rootless semi dystopia. My sister could probably sell her two bed flat there foir a small fortune and move up north to have a very pleasant life… but chooses to stay in the damned place like some frightened rabbit in headlights. Is this a ‘syndrome’ anyone else has noticed about ‘London people’ … It’s as if they;

    a) don’t believe/ have forgotten that wonderful lives can actually exist outside of the grim, dirty, egregiously expensive bubble…

    b) They seem to be transfixed by the place, as if they might miss something huge if they leave?

    To and ‘outsider’ it all seems extremely weird.

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  2. Do you know there is actually no scientific evidence for this sipping water throughout the day. I’m not sure where thus nonsense started though I suspect it might be the water bottling companies Evian= Naive backwards. Your body is in balance between water in ,water out. The more you drink the more you pee out. It’s a balance that your kidneys control. The body takes it’s water in many forms through what you eat as well as what you drink. You eat when you are hungry ,you drink when you are thirsty . You are wasting your money with this drink 2ltr crap

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  3. I had to go the Hook today. I was early so went into the TESCO, the only store there, to look for the loo. I expected to see a bunch of Hookers, of which there were none. Now I know they were at Waterloo last night. I know what you mean John. The dress sense of the young females is non-existent.

    By the way, the Cabin, upstairs at the station, serves decent wine that is not over the top price wise. The statio itself is much improved over a few years ago with a decent Foyles bookstore on the ground level.

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  4. Gordie… The number of times I’ve been lectured on ‘environmental issues’ by some sanctimonious twat waving a bottle of water at me.. like an obedient consumerist drone…. Sigh.
    It’s ALL conditioning mate, of people who don’t have the wherewithal or the inclination to ever think anything through beyond the slogan or the ‘trend’ of the day. Seriously, if you have seen the film ‘Idiocracy’ you’ll recognise ‘the future’ as NOW.

    I really really worry for my School aged children’s futures…

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  5. My daughter went to Uni at kings 6 years ago. First to do an msc then a BDS . After the first year ,and during market doldrums I bought a three bed ,ex council,flat in the shadow of the Shard and thank f..k I did. I stuck it in her name ,stuck just enough in to make the renting out of the other two room to cover the mortgage and basically paid no rent. She will still have 50k debt when she qualifies next year but the place has almost doubled in value. One of the few astute investments I have made.

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  6. All very interesting John but let s cut to the chase . Enough about ” ..and had asked the previously virtual friend to join me….” and ” …We took in a light dinner and more wine, gave little bits of personal history away, and then went our separate ways. It was a good evening and stimulating…..”

    So it was a Tinder project then was it ? Thus the real question is : did you really go your separate ways or was it a leg- over job ? After all you are on holiday! That s what all are dying really to know and only I have the lack of breeding to ask!

    One parting thought : Will they reintroduce trunk calls at the Elephant Park ?

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  7. I share many of the views expressed on this site on finance, economics and geo-politics. That said, I don’t see or feel the decline here in western Quebec that people see and feel in the UK. My wife’s extended francophone family have all done well in life, partly as a result of the decline in Anglo economic dominance of 40 years ago. There is still a sense of expansion and optimism, of a thriving culture. But, visiting the UK on an annual basis, I have felt the decline in the UK over the last 40 years and have now reached a point where I even avoid Heathrow when visiting France and or Spain for my annual walk. It is now 10 years since I set foot in the country of my birth. Pity. JW, your description creates in me an odd combination of Dickens and Orwell. Enjoy Kent, my home county. I have fond memories of life there in the 50s and early 60s.

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  8. No! For one, I’m not dying to know. That’s none of our business and if it were me, I would find your tactless remarks most offensive. Please think again and apologise.
    Perhaps you miss the News of the World.

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  9. …“not to turn up inconsiderately sober”
    It’s always a good idea to order more alcohol than you think you need.
    Better to be safe than sober eh?
    Copyright probably T.Wogan, but I’m not sure.

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  10. @ RB – Having fled London some 11 years ago for the third and final time (though a Londoner born and bred) a number of friends remain, all retired, unable to uproot themselves and none are ‘native’ to the place. I put their reluctance down to fear of the unknown so they cling to the familiar, which in all honesty becomes more alien with every passing year. Unless born with an intrepid spirit, this fear increases with age, so the ongoing decrease in the quality of life is a bit like the boiling frog and I now believe they’ll all die there, full of complaints and vague feelings of having missed the boat – unlike the many new faces that are filling the vacuum left by the now 60% of Londoners who’ve packed up and left and they didn’t all leave for job opportunities ……. There are some who hang on thinking London’s property boom will go on and on, fearing not to maximise their potential gains – according to the pundits, they may be in for a surprise.

    Though the emphasis is currently on migrants moving into Europe from places few would actually choose to settle in, there’s another less observed exodus of skilled Europeans moving away from ‘home’ – in Britain, a quarter of a million every year for the past couple of decades. Here, halfway across the globe, hardly a day passes without bumping into Brits and ‘frogs’. I wonder at what point the ‘familiar’ back home will only relate to the buildings and geography…….

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  11. Where are you alex? I’m in Germany which ironically was okay even though I am not German till lately but we are being swamped by asylum seekers now.

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  12. That’s a very good analysis alexei, I’ve noticed it’s those who ‘moved down there’ that are the worst for ‘the syndrome’ as well…. In fact, to be honest I haven’t bumped into a real honest to goodness ‘Londoner’ down there for years! well certainly not any under about 40 yo. It really is quite an odd atmosphere there now.

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  13. John: you should have had a slogeratti convestion whilst you were here in Blighty. We could all have had a few bevvies and bitching although, frankly, life is not a fraction as bad as it’s often painted here. Twisted the politics may be but life goes on and as they said in my youth ‘it aint half bad’. (S’pose that means it could be all bad!)

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  14. @ Jeremy
    Pacific North West of US. Wherever one is in the world, conditions and circumstances seem to be changing rapidly and unpredictably,leading to a sense of impermanence. But seeking a safe haven in a shrinking and disrupted world becomes increasingly problematical – increasingly, I think one needs to be flexible, adaptable and resourceful to survive what’s to come.

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  15. I always enjoy my trips to big Cities & after a 15yr hiatus ,I’ve had reason to visit London 5 times in 3 years but alas it seems Glasgow is going to be my main port of call over the next 4yrs

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  16. Alice in wonderland
    I am in Broadstairs , Kent where I will be until Tuesday and where I grew up. Life is still much as normal here. However nearby Margate and Cliftonville, both only 2 miles away, appear now to be Eastern European suburbs already. This is a very depressed area (apart from Broadstairs) and actually the migrants sometimes look and act better than the locals.However the area is no longer in English hand.
    I go back to Austria on Tuesday, where I have lived all my adult life and await to see, what the results of the bottle neck will be, from the Germans closing the border. Luckily I am in the Innsbruck area far away from the borders that the floods are crossing but not from those arriving from Italy via the Brenner pass. If like Germany, the refugees are distributed around the different districts, then we will get even more than we already have. We have a refugee hotel in our 4500 person skiing village already, so no doubt we will get even more refugees.
    Intersetng times

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  17. I was born in London, early 50s. My father was a copper in the Met and, had he lived beyond his 33rd year, I suspect I would be there now. As it is I am more a Westcountryman than anything else these days having lived in many other parts of the world as well. On the rare occasions I go to London (I nearly wrote “back to London”) I see it is little like the city of my youth. It belongs to other people now and they have made it theirs. In another fifty years the current crop will look around them in confusion and wonder where “their” London has gone. The truth is that it only ever exists in their imagination as “my” London does in mine. They will probably be as loath to leave the metropolis (reasoning that their two-bed apartment is currently valued at €7.2bn and it might be worth double that next year) as today’s lot.

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  18. Oi! Us cockneys don’t like that kind of talk, mite. It does darn yer London wot is hindubitably the money-laundering capital of the world even if it ‘as got too many ole Etonians running it. Me. I live in yer Cayman Islands, nah, since I sold the carncil arse and me old lady sold ‘er garridge darn the market.

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  19. I do not care who it is as or what may or may not have followed, but I like a woman you prefers not to arrive inconsiderably sober to a party. Cheers.

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  20. Born 1953, within sound of the Bow Bells, I now reside high on the North Downs of lovely Kent
    Having migrated from Old Ford Bow, & experienced various South East London locations, before spending 25 years in the leafy suburbs of Bromley, wild horses could not drag me back.

    Within sight of Tower Bridge, I know it is a war zone: drugs gangs have territories, & front doors are kicked in for stashes or profits.

    I was in Manchester recently, & got chatting to our young Czech/Slovakian? waitress, living with her Brazilian husband.
    She complained sincerely that London was full of foreigners: 4 in a row of people she stopped for directions could not speak English, which she spoke fluently.

    She had been studying accountancy, but a software program has severely cut down the numbers of people needed in that profession. Intelligent, articulate, good-looking, cheerful & hardworking, she remarked that, even in Manchester, wages were such that they could not afford children.

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  21. My grandparents lived in a house in Tunnel (Blackwell) Avenue. The garden backed onto a splendid works sports ground – but that was 60 years ago…..

    http://www.wharf.co.uk/news/local-news/15000-home-greenwich-peninsula-masterplan-10018984

    Enter the Dragon – Hong Kong comes to Greenwich……http://www.knightdragon.com/greenwich-peninsula/current……

    Ah well the new residents can pop along to the Maritime Museum and learn all about the Opium Trade courtesy of the splendid new exhibition…..

    “And the seasons they go round and round
    And the painted ponies go up and down
    We’re captive on the carousel of time
    We can’t return we can only look
    Behind from where we came
    And go round and round and round
    In the circle game”

    S

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