June 21st, 2005


London: a modest proposal

You don't want balance, do you? You don't want me to get all gooey and positive, and tell you what's good about this big filthy glob of urban real estate in the middle of Middlesex, do you? Do you want me to suggest ways London might be better, in my own humble worthless exiled poncey opinion? Do you want modest proposals? You do?

Well, I had a great day in London yesterday, looking round the Central St Martin's degree show on Charing Cross Road, hanging out with art students in Soho Square, meeting up with my old Berlin flatmate Aya and design writer Rick Poynor at the Photographers Gallery Cafe (where there's a really nice show of Iranian photographs on), sitting in The Blue Room Cafe on Bateman Street (an old haunt) then on the steps of Covent Garden market, lying on a strip of sand by the Thames at low tide, walking from the NFT to the Design Museum, watching a spooky full moon rise over the Old Kent Road.

But before I burst into song (Lahndahn, Lahndahn, eels and mash and BA Fine Art!) perhaps I should note that the Photographers Gallery doesn't have air conditioning and got pretty sticky, that the CSM degree show was almost entirely the work of foreign students, that all the food I ate was over-priced and really careless (the ice cream I bought for two pounds fifty was nothing like as good as the Berlin cones I get for 40p, the chille con carne I had for lunch was rubbish, and my Thai takeaway dinner was dessert-sweet), that huddles of businesspeople ruin the riverside walk, that I crossed every road in mortal terror for my life, that sirens screamed all around me, that the place where Tower Bridge Road meets the Old Kent Road is one of the most godforsaken and desolate landscapes this side of the moon, that even the liberal newspapers here seem to delight in bashing the French, that British pop music radio played in public places is a toxic torture, that the decor in the NFT lobby is naff...

Still, the Globe is great, Clink Street is great, Ken Livingstone lord mayor of London is great and his office is pretty, what more can I say? When you're up on the ninth floor of a building on the Charing Cross Road and look out over London it's a delightfully mysterious landscape of odd roof huts, Disney-Dickensian clock towers, ivy, sky, jet planes and pure screaming possibility. It makes me think that all you'd need to do to make London really quite a wonderful place is route all motorised traffic underground, send the businessmen to Birmingham and Hong Kong, install air conditioning everywhere, rip up the grey fitted carpet and install wood floors, change all the food and chefs, half the price of everything, scrap fees for Japanese art students, introduce the euro and ban the journalists from writing about class. Oh, and turn all the TV and radio stations over to the insane.