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“Visiting London, I always have the sense of a city devised as an instrument of political control, like the class system that preserves England from revolution. The labyrinth of districts and boroughs, the endless columned porticos that once guarded the modest terraced cottages of Victorian clerks, together make clear that London is a place where everyone knows his place.

-J.G. Ballard, Airports: Cities of the Future for Blueprint magazine, September 1997

As in every big city, perhaps in every large concentration of human beings, London regards itself as quite considerably more important than everywhere else. Areas within London even posture themselves as somehow superior to their closest bordering neighbours. The same ‘narcissism of minor difference’ is expressed clearly by the amplified hatred of one obscure group of sports fans for their closest neighbouring rivals eg. Liverpool vs. Manchester, New York vs. Boston etc. etc. It’s just another reminder of what a bunch of witless, retrograde animals we actually are, despite all the protestations of highly-evolved, right-brain thinking.

People talk about tiny areas of London as if they’ve magically earned as much a right to a place in the collective consciousness as Sparta or Crete simply by being within the boundaries of the North Circular road. Londoners tend to assume in the listener a detailed geographical grasp of the city, regardless of where they might be from, just as New Yorkers refer to esoteric distinctions in ‘uptown’, ‘midtown’, and ‘downtown’ culture as if they are as intrinsic to human development as the Out of Africa migration patterns of Pleistocene man.

How have the supercilious people of a cold, rainy conurbation in an isolated corner of Northern Europe come to such licence to lord the relative merits of either side of a grey, begrimed river over the rest of the world.

Especially now, it seems that London didn’t get the memo that the system it developed and propagated across the globe has almost no ethical, spiritual or economic currency anymore, anywhere. It’s a situation that makes the half-mast-drainpipe-red-jean brigades look extra-specially ridiculous

Like the revival of the cravat in the early nineteenth century, in the 1980s, and then again in the early 2000s, the choice of that hat looks very much like a ‘top of the economic bell curve’ decision.

It’s very hard to avoid making them. It’s a rare individual that manages to transcend economic determinism, and avoids falling into the trap of thinking that things might be even remotely similar to how they were five, or even three, years ago.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m with this guy, and therefore, with Nicholas Sarkozy:

“That a head of state should allow Eros to plot the trajectory of his life, rather than the travails of the global credit crunch, is so life-affirming it moves me to tears.

-Peter Aspden, Financial Times, August 2, 2008

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Andrew Johnson Andy is a freelance magazine writer and editor from the North of England. He has rapidly divested himself of his life and reassembled it so many times in so many different countries over the last several years that he feels like his hair is on fire. He is at work on a novel ostensibly about the British Empire.

One Response to “London Feels”

  1. Andy Johnson says:

    2009-09-06 16:39:34
    Comment by Simon Smithson

    Man, that photo could just as easily have come from San Francisco.

    And am I alone in having a kind of grudging admiration for Sarkozy and Berlusconi? There’s something about that kind of larger-than-life figure in politics that makes me think Yeah, OK… at least you never really compromised on this stuff.

    2009-09-07 00:31:51
    Comment by James D. Irwin

    Berlusconi is my favourite world leader.

    Or Chavez.

    Sarkozy has a hot wife, but he loses out in the perverted/insanity stakes.

    2009-09-07 00:32:46
    Comment by James D. Irwin

    I hasten to add I only like them as figures of fun, not politically.

    2009-09-07 14:08:34
    Comment by Simon Smithson

    Yeah, that’s me as well. What was the Berlusconi quote (I’m shady on this one): ‘In the history of the world, only Napoleon has accomplished as much as I. And I’m taller.’

    I mean, come on. There’s something so Zapp Brannigan-esque about that…

    2009-09-09 11:37:20
    Comment by Andy Johnson

    Berlusconi raising his (very) ugly head in this is pretty unexpected, lads – it’s like discovering Ezra Pound was into Mussolini.

    Oh…

    2009-09-09 14:53:08
    Comment by James D. Irwin

    prepare for a little SSE…

    just a little while ago I was watching Zapp Brannigan’s first appearance in Futurama…

    2009-09-09 15:00:37
    Comment by Simon Smithson

    Ezra Pound… man, I haven’t thought of that guy in years.

    2009-09-07 13:09:53
    Comment by Erika Rae

    Nice post. Love the photos.

    2009-09-08 09:06:09
    Comment by cheale

    Not sure I agree with you on the statement about every large city feeling more important than anywhere else on earth (Helsinki, Auckland I would say don’t), however I would say they usually feel much more important than/superior to the surrounding countryside/regions…

    London’s (and the UK’s arrogance may be due the British Empire)…

    chao

    2009-09-09 11:58:05
    Comment by Andy Johnson

    It is absolutely down to the British Empire, but the narcissism of minor difference applies to all humans. Everyone’s susceptible to the feeling, ‘I hate you because you remind me too much of myself’, whether you’re from Hagåtña or Harrogate. It goes back to days of caves.

    2009-09-10 10:28:53
    Comment by Ducky

    We’re a species of arrogance.
    Pity.

    2009-09-11 09:48:19
    Comment by Kip Tobin

    Yes sir, I root for love, too. Go Sarkozy, Go.

    I am pretty against any and all city-as-center-of-the-universe centric in the same way I view very pretty girls who not only know they are pretty, but act accordingly, as if the world owes them something. I wonder why this is. I’ve always been for the underdog, for the person who doesn’t see him or herself as the center of it all, who’s simply trying to get by and be happy. Those city slickers live such urban urbane attitudes that I feel that most of their lives are spent climbing atop others in an endless plateau of concrete and movement. Sure, some are happy, but most ride the wave of that arrogance endlessly. In the presence of the modern man who lives in the city, I step aside, because he’s always trying to run me over. I am a slow-moving, blurry obstacle to him or her. So I move upside and let the man go through.

    I wonder if we will see ever see the death of the city? I certainly don’t think we’ll step backward and go back to the land, not unless Nostradamis is right about 2012, or McCarthy is correct about The Road. God knows the suburbs are not where it’s at, yet, at the same time, the city isn’t always the most desirable place to be, hence the spring fever when one hasn’t left a city in a long time, the longing to go out and take a hike, breathe some fresh air.

    Anyway…

    “We who are still half alive, living in the often fibrillating heartland of a senescent
    capitalism — can we do more than reflect the decay around and within us? Can we
    do more than sing our sad and bitter songs of disillusion and defeat?”
    -R.D. Laing, from the Introduction
    to The Politics of Experience

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