“Why did you move to the UK?” they ask… “You come from Australia!” they shriek in disbelief before normally proceeding to interrogate me as to why I would do such a thing. I used to get wrapped up in trying to convince them that there is more to life than the beach, blondes and benefits; until I realised I really should be asking them the very same question…
I thought about it…. why did I leave my small sandy sanctuary with lightly washed skies, dusty greens and royal marine blues? Only to replace that with massacred upturned umbrellas and lonely gloves lying like corpses in the street. The answer to me was simple: because familiarity breeds indifference no matter where you are. I came to London for England. For a home away from home but different in so many refreshingly subtle ways. For men in ties, trilby’s and blazers. For Pete Doherty and an English song. For funny pub names and tea not just at dawn. For seasonal sunshine and winters that last all year long. For that kind British culture, Reeboks, Shakespeare and Orwell… where could that all go wrong?
But it’s cold out on there on the cobbles these days, amongst the myriad of blurred faces, names, shapes and common disgraces. I slip in-between the folds and creases of disorientated tourists that forever blanket central London. My mask is on, my ears nicely blocked with the same old tunes and my eyes are routinely fixed to the ground. I duck and weave past oversized maps attached to madly flailing arms before swerving to avoid a head on collision, and spoiling the photo of just another person in a red photo booth. A lonely church nestled in the bedrock of British soil catches my eye and I examine it longingly. Its neo-Gothic pinnacles piece the canvas ceiling which is splashed in its famous moody greys. I blink and for one elusive moment I can still hear the horse shoes slapping the pavement as they cuddle the medieval stones that propel them swiftly by. I can smell the musty odour of the horse and its sweat as it beads down its neatly sculptured flanks. I squint and glimpse the man perched up top of his wagon boasting a double-breasted over-coat, moustache and top-hat as he defiantly surveys the roads. I can even feel the air being sliced apart by the snapping of his whip which reverberates through the nostalgic breeze. However, when I open my eyes I see yet another pointless off-licence crammed into the tired belly of a magnificent pile of bloodied Victorian bricks. I see Tesco bags flying like flags from skeletal tree branches. I hear a porridge of accents, languages and dialects constantly creeping up and fading with intensity as they brush me past. Without the aid of my imagination though, it’s much easier to forget where you are when you’re immersed into a perilous ocean of multi-cultural diversity and all of its contradicting intensities. Blue, white and red pepper this town in hopes that this proud country can remind us all whose milk we’re drinking, whose jobs we’re taking and who’s culture we’re influencing.
London has a population of around 8 million strong which is already over one third of the entire population of Australia. And for those of you who still don’t grasp how big Australia really is, just imagine the United Kingdom fitting into it about 31 times. So with 40% of that population in London considered to be of ethnic background; what does that do to a city? What does that do to community? How does that influence government? What happens when such a concentrated melting pot of conflicting beliefs, traditions, rules and values are mashed together and stirred about in hopes of achieving something pleasant, colourful and healthy? Will harmonic progress be achieved through a united understanding and respect of history, traditional culture and native ethics? Or will it become rather like a nasty and distasteful stew that has been abused with too many ingredients, or an artist that has mistreated his pallet with too many colours that make that repugnant muddy green.
Unlike the blissful utopian comfort that normally comes from living in a small like-minded community, the divides between minds run deep here and behave more like frontiers slashing through the face of London in all directions. I miss the cheerful “good mornings” from strangers as they pass you in the street. The way you can comfortably chat with almost anyone you meet on the bus or at the beach. The euphoric feeling of self pride that comes from helping others with their bags or by giving up your seat. The way you can leave your front door open or your car unlocked; these are the crucial little things that London lacks due to its sheer size and variety. People here seem to be rather indifferent, sceptical, alienated and frustrated as we are funnelled into a sterile environment which is based on the neutral agreement to disagree. With such opposing beliefs of what defines a happy and rewarding life; like attracts like and so minds stay closed. People huddle together in race, religion and origin where they seem to be neglecting the very foundation on which they are building their lives.
With all the abundant positives that come from diversity, do the possible negatives ever seem to come into account at all? Or are governments more concerned with civility and security of foreign income than with its own culture and community? Like anything in excess; Plato says that it generally causes a reaction and produces a change in the opposite direction, whether it’s with seasons, individuals or governments. So what will the future London look like? What will England look like? Will it be sure-footed enough to safeguard its mesmerizing grace and heritage in hopes that it can continue to offer the world more than just a barren suggestion of what its tradition used to feel like? On that note, what about the countries of Europe? They have already lost their array of currencies in collaboration with the EU, and so with it a slither of identity. In a world that demands unison and does not have the mentality or capacity to support it; what will happen to countries and their cultures around the globe? What then is the next big thing to be deemed useless? An abundance of languages? Then surely after that, an abundance of words? Are we being stripped of our creativity? Is the common man and women in a business suit speaking one language and learning one truth really possible? And for what? What becomes the very point of our existence when we live in a world where we are driven more so by our addiction to digits than our very own humanly needs and our first degree happiness? Is there any room to debate the possibility of a futuristic worldwide non-culture that is stemmed from the only common ground that we are struggling to agree on which is fact? Will our cultural differences eventually be weaned from our consciousness to forever belong to the past? Will we then be more easily identified and controlled? If unity is needed, what are the odds that the elite countries of the world will cooperate as one anyway?
Like many capital cities, London is more of a donation of land to the world where she is dressed-up and abused for her pregnant history and traditional wonders. As much as I love her, I cannot trust her. She’s a fake. She tries to be everything to everyone and has lost her identity on the trade-in. A shape shifter at heart, London as it were, is buried ten feet underground and whatever this is that remains, is merely but an illusion.