London’s Seven (Worst) Wonders
There’s no point in counting the obvious things like rising child poverty, the increasing wealth divide or the actions of the imploding coalition government (to the more cynical, it appears that the coalition is being carefully dismantled prior to reappearing separately in time for the next elections). Here are some of the things even the casual tourist to London would notice. 1. Ryanair.
So you’re on your way to London. Not if this bucket shop has anything to do with it…If you had the misfortune to fly into the city on one of their dustbins-with-wings, you’ll already have had a bad impression before you’ve arrived. The airline says it’s because they’re cheap, but in these times even discount companies have no right to be run so badly. Ryanair pilots have been warned not to sign a letter to airline regulators expressing concern that the airline’s employment practices jeopardise passenger safety. Flight attendants don’t get paid for three months of the year and have to buy their own uniforms. You know that the staff join because they can’t get employment anywhere else, so why on earth would you use them? Because they have certain routes sewn up, that’s why.
Unnecessary signage, cones, orange plastic barriers, holes, half-finished repairs, broken paving, overflowing bins and far more litter as the city crowds up. To walk along Camden High Street is to trudge through extraordinary amounts of debris, thanks largely to the fact that there are more junk-food shops and fewer bins here than anywhere else. Nobody gets fined for dropping litter – it just piles up. The Congestion Charge failed to clear cars out of the centre, and car-pooling never happened – most vehicles have but a single person inside. Inroads were being made by Ken Livingstone and after the Gloucester Road experiment removed railings, with Oxford Circus opening a Japan-style crossing – but why hasn’t the practice of giving pedestrians priority over vehicles spread? Try asking Johnson and Cameron. 3. WH Smith.
Dear God. The ubiquitous chain souk just got voted the worst in the country, and it’s everywhere. Spokespeople point to continued rising profits but that has nothing to do with customer satisfaction. It’s to do with the fact that they open more and more outlets on busy public thoroughfares, and shove them into hospitals and other places where there’s no other choice. That was how they made their money in the first place, and has continued to be their policy for 100 years. The shops are a messy, badly-run nightmare of low-end, overpriced tenth-rate rubbish. The directors know it and don’t give a toss. 4. Unsmart Arthouse
Empty vessels Damien Hirst and Mark Ravenhill are respective worst offenders in their fields, but too much of the arts in London is hogged by the rich and pretentious. The fresh, the original, the new simply don’t have a voice. The Arts Council is going, yet most successful British arts exports had their roots in experimentation and public funding. ‘Seek out more philanthropists’, says the Government, ignoring the fact that this is impossible outside of the capital. Where are the theatre voices to replace Beckett, Bond, Wesker, Ayckbourn? There are those who argue with some reason that the English have never been overly committed to the arts, compared to, say, France or Spain – but if we break the habit now we’ll never get it back. 5. The weather.
You’d think this is one thing we couldn’t control in London. As the nation lurches into its seventh freezing month of winter and the Gulf Stream remains stubbornly pushed away from the coastline, most likely as a side effect of global warming, even the greatest climate change denier has to admit things are getting bad. The government had promised to radically slash plane circling times. Part of this plan was to redesign landing patterns, but also to build new runways. With Cameron & Co still dithering about what to do, Heathrow has become an overcrowded nightmare and the planes still circle overhead, their contrails seeding clouds, so that the blue skies we get almost every morning over London before 6:00am have vanished by 8:00am – and still nothing gets decided. 6. Leicester Square.
No matter how many improvements get made to the square itself, permissions for the surrounding buildings are an insult. It’s the one London area where pedestrianisation proved disastrous. The oppressive, plasticky W Hotel has M&M World in its basement and a bar that’s perfect for Russian gangsters and hookers. Yet still people flock here. The next move by Westminster Council? They’ve allowed a fiercely lit two-storey high screen opposite the Leicester Square tube entrance, in a move that paves the way for a second Piccadilly Circus. Classy move.
7. Bad New Architecture.
You thought the Shard was over-dominant? How about these, the Futureslums at Paddington Basin, promised to be a site of fine architecture and fast turning into a corporate car-crash, and the nastiest Central London building in years at Holborn Viaduct. After a brief shining moment of nice new buildings it’s suddenly all gone a bit French. The riverside flats at Chelsea should be overrun with ‘Clockwork Orange’ style gangs when the food runs out, although renaming them Future Dystopia Heights might limit their sales.