Notes From The London Bubble: A British Taboo
Look at the picture – is it in central London, or Wales?
Here in the Decaf-Soy-Flat-White hell of London N1, home of the ‘liberal intelligencia’, people love to help their fellow neighbours. When we run out of raclette and have no alpine-based dairy product to substitute just before a wine and cheese party, someone will always pop over with an emergency cheeseboard. We’re in and out of each other’s flats with fresh truffles and pecorino all day long.
This is clearly how some people think Londoners live. Try asking our nearest shopkeeper where the liberal intelligencia are and he’ll say a rude word. I’ve just read a thick-ear crime novel in which a gruff Northern cop, clearly an avatar for the author, only has to sight someone with a beard to start sounding off against ‘arty-farty’ London liberals. We’ve become more of a stereotype than the flat-cap-wearing whippet-on-a-lead Northerner.
And like all stereotypes, it’s hopelessly wrong.
I don’t write much about the rest of Britain only because I don’t have the depth of knowledge to do so when there are a great many terrific writers can. But I regularly make trips out (ie to towns with bookshops) there are always areas which are no different to my neighbourhood – just more segregated. The low-income families live separate lives from the higher earners. Smart little shops, dinky restaurants with fancy ingredients and artisanal markets are everywhere on one side of town, but the gap between craft-bread and breadline has grown so wide that one side cannot see the other. If I wanted to see real wealth, grand mansions hidden from the road, I wouldn’t look in London but in the rest of the country (not Portsmouth, of course).
I would argue that in London we see both all the time, because unless you live in Chelsea, Hampstead, Kensington or Belgravia (areas in which people don’t live, just invest) the city rubs rich and poor together and drops them into the same street. Around me, the cockney geezers who run the ‘Achilles Heels’ cobblers and the imaginatively sweary barmaid in the Thornhill Arms cater equally to local workmen, hipsters, executives and the Muslim ladies who silently sit in the sunlight with their prams. I get the backgrounds for my novels by walking around and talking to neighbours where the arguments are the same as in the country; who illegally dumped rubbish on the street, when will the roads be repaired, what happened to the cycle lane.
I was born in central London. My furthest relative lived all the way out in Earl’s Court. When we visited him (all of 6 stops from Piccadilly Circus) we usually left early to get home for supper. That was our big day out. We didn’t have a car. So of course Londoners knew each other; we saw each other every bloody day.
I love Cambridge and Leeds, Norwich and Cardiff, Sheffield, Scarborough and even Walton-on-the-Naze (drawing the line at Portsmouth) but apart from finding people with more time to be friendly they really aren’t so very different, and they grow less different with each passing day. In Spain the Catalans hate the Basques or Galicians depending on the year. In the UK we don’t – but Londoners bear the brunt of the vitriol from everyone else, even if it’s only online.
This is a British taboo; admitting that at ground level we’re a united country separated by salaries. If anyone really thinks Londoners swan about from café to cocktail bar, come and compete for a job here; the process is truly horrendous, the chances of finding somewhere to live within financial and geographical reach almost non-existent.
Then remember we’re one country with the same aims. After the Brexit debacle it might be the thing that saves us.
The coffee shop is in Wales.