Lost London

Feb 9th, 2005, 03:44 PM
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Lost London

That was the headline on a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Here are a few excerpts:

Red double-decker buses. Black taxicabs. Red phone boxes. The corner pub. A letter to the Times.

London icons, all. All in danger of going the way of foggy nights, trolleys, pigeons in Trafalgar Square, and other once-common symbols of the city that have been swept into the dustbin of history.

In what seems a culturally suicidal series of moves, London is ditching many of its most recognizable symbols.


More than half the pubs are owned by big chains, their homogenized interiors filled with gambling machines and blaring rock music.

Once upon a time, it wasn't unusual to find a pub at all four corners of a London intersection. Now there are fewer than 5,000 pubs in the entire city. More than 100 pubs are closing each year, victims of rising rents and changing drinking habits.

The trend led the New Statesman magazine to recall a saying by the 1930s French poet Hilaire Belloc, who became a British citizen and pub devotee.

"When you have lost your inns," Belloc wrote, "drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England."

nonnafelice is offline  
Feb 9th, 2005, 11:29 PM
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What self-centred claptrap.

London isn't - and mercifully never has been - a theme park for tourists.

Nor for idle journalists so blinkered in their historical perspective that they attach value to recent inventions like the awful 1930s urinals that were, briefly, dysfunctionsal phone boxes or the appallingly designed, pollutant, 1950s buses that are a positive danger to any passenger with luggage, shopping, children, or the slightest lack of nimbleness.

Now it's certainly true we've got rid of institutions that long stood the test of time - like smog, child prostitution (Southwark's never really been the same since Cromwell's PC nannies cleaned it up), The Big Stink and night-soil men.

But some of this article's "changes" are simple inventions: Britain's urban pubs, for example, have been chain-operated for at least a century, and if the author really thinks Watney's was a better guardian of our national heritage than Wetherspoon's, he either never tried Red Barrel or comes from a place where the beer's even worse. Scottish and Newcastle, BTW, who used to run some of our horridest boozers, employed a teetotaler as pub designer. He was clearly trying to spread the message.

Mercifully, though, for every mediocre pub that closes (and if we're down to 5,000, there's little risk of mass thirst), Ben Haines' list of lectures and debates adds another half-dozen entries, another obscure theatre opens in SW11 and a specialist art gallery opens next door, a new museum opens celebrating something you didn't even know we did (wait for the Peak Freans Biscuit museum in Bermondsey) and another two dozen restaurants open from countries Philadelphia writers probably can't find on a map. Meanwhile, 2,000 people move here every week to escape persecution, probably adding at least one more language to the 300-odd spoken in our school system and even more dynamism to Europe's major (?only) job-creating economy.

If you attach a value to trivia, like the colour of taxis, then you're probably best advised to take your cliche-spotting elsewhere. If you're looking for the world's richest repository of mankind's achievements, that repository is getting richer every day.

Real cities don't lock themselves in aspic. London's been a real city for 2,000 years, and for the past 500 THE real city. And there's not a shred of evidence that one single aspect of what makes this the world's greatest city is in any danger of disappearing.

And you can still write a letter to The Times to moan about it, BTW.
flanneruk is offline  
Feb 9th, 2005, 11:43 PM
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Well said!!!
LFC is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 01:50 AM
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A perfect riposte!

Maybe you could send the Phili Enquirer an e-mail for publication on their letters' page?

Dr D.
Dr_DoGood is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 02:24 AM
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Oh for crying out loud, lighten up. Gary Warner, who wrote the article, is NOT a Philadelphia Inquirer writer. He's a wire service TRAVEL writer for Knight Ridder and I believe he's based in Southern California.
Before jumping to conclusions and blethering arrogantly about what "Inky" writers know or don't know about geography, get an actual copy of the newspaper and read the entire thing, not just one wire service pick up. The Inky is a highly regarded newspaper with some outstanding reporters. Their science writers, for example, can hold their own against any other newspaper's science reporting team in the world.
Silly articles, including pure claptrap about America, have appeared in The Times and other British newspapers too, you know. What goes around, comes around.
BTilke is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 02:48 AM
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Calm yourself down!!!
LFC is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 03:02 AM
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KFC, I AM perfectly calm..I'm not the one ranting over one silly wire service article.
To help lighten the mood, have a gander at www.randyhands.com Be sure to wash your hands when you're done
(web site created by the friend of one of my husband's employees...in the guy's defense, it was done as a exercise to hone his website building skills...)
BTilke is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 03:32 AM
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Your husband should sack him for wasting his employers money and time!! Only kidding. Either he has a very vivid imagination or scarey?
LFC is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 03:40 AM
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It was the *friend* of one of my husband's employees, not the employee himself. At any rate, if this is what the locals get up to at the pub, maybe it's not such a bad thing when some close ;-)
(although I think this game was concoted in a Brighton pub, not London. And note the contributors are all men).
BTilke is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 08:19 AM
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I was hoping you or someone with firsthand knowledge would refute the writer of the article, and you did it quite devastatingly. I would hate to think of London becoming a "theme park for tourists."

So here's another quote that I'd be interested in your take on -- and please remember, I'm not in any way arguing on the bash-London side. I certainly have no recent firsthand knowledge. But I've been reading quite a bit about the city before a planned visit there, including a recent book, "London: A History" by A.N. Wilson. Here's what he says:

"London is now a town much more like New York than Rome or Paris. It does not have a particularly national identity. The big City institutions are largely staffed, funded, and run, as well as owned, by hugely powerful non-British companies, American, German, and Japanese. The economy depends upon non-British holidaymakers coming in huge numbers to be fed and tended by, on the whole, non-British restaurateurs, hoteliers, entertainers, prostitutes, and the like. Meanwhile the great majority of ordinary workers in London cannot afford to live within twenty miles of its center and must commute to work using the increasingly unsatisfactory public transport systems. "

Wilson also talks about the "Americanization and moronization" of Britain -- "a phenomenon gleefully abetted by the newspaper magnate Rupert Murdoch." (The other article's point about the Times was that even if you write them a letter, you're now writing to a Murdoch publication, not the Times of times past. Again, I don't and never did read the Times so I don't know whether Murdoch has succeeded in "moronizing" it. )

Having quoted that, I should add that Wilson does end the book on a positive note, saying that London is still a city of great elegance, with ebullient and irrepressible energy. "You feel alive in London as nowhere else in Britain, surrounded by so much excellence."

I got the feeling that he was saddened about the negative side of many changes that have come to the city he loves, but still cautiously hopeful about the future.
nonnafelice is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 08:55 AM
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The Route Masters should stay!

I see plenty of old people with sticks clambering on and off of them, they're a design classic. If people are so disabled they can't step up a few extra inches then stay at home, or make other arrangements. The new buses still have steps up, so I have no idea what this easy access nonsense is about. Furthermore, one can get on to a Route Master whilst it is sitting in traffic, and not have to run to bus stops further along the road.

It's absolutely disgusting that they will soon be going.
m_kingdom2 is offline  
Feb 11th, 2005, 11:13 AM
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I think it's increasingly a commonplace that 'world cities' like London, New York, and even Paris, seem to have more in common with each other than with the rest of the country each belongs to.

I wouldn't trust AN Wilson as a factual commentator on much, especially boring old economic statistics, and I doubt very much if the economy of London is wholly dependent on tourism, important though that is.

What is true is that the cost of housing for people in important but not so well paid service jobs is a real problem. The housing market risks discouraging people from moving from elsewhere in the country, and allows for serious exploitation of people from abroad who don't know what to expect, whether they're here legally or illegally - as indeed does the labour market and the sub-contracting culture.

And we have to run very hard to catch up with the backlog of work that needs to be done on public transport and a lot of other public services - things are improving but demand is always increasing. Much as I enjoy being one of those true Londoners who knows how to get safely on and off a moving bus, I never thought Routemasters were as wonderful as they were lauded to be (I'm old enough to remember being taken to a test showing of one in the early 50s, and the automatic gear change was damn jerky and uncomfortable even then).
PatrickLondon is offline  

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