Londoners

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Londoners

Post  eddie on Thu Nov 03, 2011 8:08 am

Londoners by Craig Taylor - review

Funny, epic, moving stories from the capital

Sukhdev Sandhu
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 1 November 2011 17.00 GMT


'Getting along': London commuters. Photograph: Chris Helgren/Reuters

Whenever I'm mooching around London, especially in a neighbourhood I don't know very well, I tend to head straight for the nearest internet cafe. There are fewer of them than there once were since smartphones and Wi-Fi became commonplace. Still they persist – shabby hubs for students, Airbnb itinerants, everyone priced out of the digital revolution.


Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now – As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It and Long for It
by Craig Taylor

Their sputtering computers, above which hang Met Police posters warning against sites of a pornographic or "extremist" nature, are portals to countless micro-Londons: type a single letter into a search engine and details come tumbling out about what previous users have been looking up. Depending on where you are, there'll be live streams of Turkish minor-league football, the latest episode of some Eritrean soap opera, details of knocking shops specialising in Lithuanian women or shaky footage of anti-American demagogues waving their fists.

When read alongside undeleted Word documents detailing immigration battles, divorce proceedings, STD dramas, applications for council housing and badly spelled press releases for pop-up gallery shows, what emerges is the digital unconscious of the capital. Here, in all its cacophonous fragmentation, is a real-time archive of London.

The possibilities and chatter found in these cyber shacks come to the fore in Craig Taylor's splendid oral history of the city. He is, like many of the best writers about London, an outsider, having grown up in a small seaside village in western Canada before moving to the UK in 2000. Fortunately he had a miserable time at first, often feeling "lonely, duped, underprepared, faceless, friendless".

Fortunately because it meant that instead of cabbing the city like a businessman on an expense account, he trudged its endless pavements and pressed up against the windows of its crowded night buses; he learnt very quickly to see it as an emotional topography rather than just a landscape of signs and wonders. Nothing gave him as much solace as a passing drug dealer calling him "bruv".

Londoners, its lengthy subtitle evoking the compendious quasi-ethnographies of Victorian writers such as GA Sala, is made up of more than 80 interviews with a broad range of inhabitants: commercial airline pilots, manicurists, squatters, beekeepers, dominatrices, hedge fund managers and even Laetitia Sadier from the band Stereolab. It's topped and tailed by naysayers – a departee characterises the city as populated by "Asperger's people" and "an exercise in frustration management"; an antique clock restorer, sounding like Marlow in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, claims: "All evil originates here … industrialisation, capitalism, imperialism." But the general mood, as indicated by the rather hazy chapter headings – "Getting On With It", "Getting Along", "Putting on a Show" – is one of grumbling rather than jeremiad, tart observations rather than denunciations.

Oral history doesn't have a great reputation these days. Academia tends to view it as naive, untheoretical, a throwback to the 1970s and 80s when local councils were happy to fund the publications of booklets assembling the memories of dockworkers, lamplighters and first-generation immigrants. Yet some of the most important studies of London – Raphael Samuel's East End Underworld on the career criminal Arthur Harding, Tony Parker's The People of Providence, about a south London housing estate – emerge from this tradition.

Taylor, whose first book Return To Akenfield followed in the footsteps of Ronald Blythe's 1969 portrait of an English village, has a talent for finding interlocutors, building up the intimacy needed for them to speak freely, and sensitively pruning the resulting deluge of words to uncover their essence. One marvellous vignette finds him "speaking to a human statue out on the corner of Floral Street in Covent Garden. He was on a break, and when I asked him how he did it, he said, 'You learn discipline in Estonia'."

What makes Londoners as valuable as any sociological treatise is Taylor's appreciation of the ways in which his subjects are themselves surveying, analysing and theorising the turbulent city in which they live. The categories according to which they interpret what they see are unusual and vivid: a paramedic discusses his work in terms of the cigarettes he smokes – the "euphoric fag" after he's saved a life or delivered a baby; the "run-of-the-mill fag" when he's bored; the "fag to stop you crying" when he's been unable to save a child. Elsewhere a nurse views the year in terms of sex. Her busiest times are from early December to the end of January, when "people go out and get absolutely bollocksed and have inappropriate sex with each other"; after Valentine's Day when she disburses lots of morning-after pills; and towards the close of summer when "everybody's been off to Ibiza and shagged the entire island, been shagged by the entire island". Perhaps she'd agree with Peter Rees, City of London planning officer, who claims the capital's greatest attribute is that "it has the best free sex in the world".

It's clear from the interviews that one of the key stories of the last decade has been the extent to which the city's bubble economy, inflated by property speculation, finance-sector rapacity and cheap foreign labour, has transformed the metropolis both imaginatively and culturally. According to a currency trader: "If it were a human being, a government market would be a very old, ugly woman. On the other hand, the currency market would be a very attractive blonde." Meanwhile, a street photographer complains that west and north London now "feel a bit like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Midwich Cuckoos or something, because there's thousands of women dressing out of a Boden catalogue".

Taylor's confidants prove that the city inspires its inhabitants to coin neologisms, torque meanings and create striking turns of phrase. An estate agent who prides himself on his ability to read his clients' body language claims: "If they're smiling in a property, you know that something's igniting their p-spot"; Tim, a miserable financier, says he lives in "Londin" – "It's a cross between London and Londis. You're not exactly at Waitrose, you're not even at Sainsbury's, you're not even at Tesco. It's a bit shit in Londin."

On occasions Londoners attains a level of eloquence as beautiful and blue as anything to be found in the works of Jean Rhys or Samuel Selvon. Stacey, a 16-year-old Geordie kicked out of the Tower Bridge penthouse she shared with a pop singer, drifts through the city, "pummeling it by foot, every day, wandering around like a little ghost feeling sad. A little ghost in a really short skirt with lots of make-up on." Sarah, a transsexual, explains that before her operation, "London was about systems, about circuits, connections, roads. It was an emotionless place where things simply operated. After the change London is an emotional place. I feel the flows of emotion. I see the sadness of buildings, the sad gorgeousness of light on the streets."

It's passages such as these that distinguish Londoners from the desiccated bibliophilia that characterises a certain strain of modern writing about the capital. Here, and also in Taylor's artful organisation of clashing voices, London is not so much – to use another metaphor that's common these days – an archaeological dig; rather, it's radiophonic terrain, a sonic spectrum. Its nearest equivalents are records: Peter Cusack's Your Favourite London Sounds, DJ Wrongspeed's Pirate Flava, Saint Etienne's What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day?.

At more than 400 pages, the book could easily have been twice as long. I would have liked more elderly voices. And younger ones, too; this summer's riots underlined how inaudible the capital's teenagers are. It's a shame that religion is mostly talked about in terms of Islam and, even then, mostly in relation to the social friction it can generate.

But this remains a remarkable volume, from the heaving, contradictory energy of its countless funny, terrifying, epic stories – crackheads looking for a lost swan in Baker Street, an Iranian homosexual shivering in Calais as he waits for a lorry to take him to his promised land, a Wiccan priestess tipping the remains of her spells over Waterloo Bridge. All this diversity serves to confirm the truth of what one of Taylor's interviewees tells him in a Cricklewood pub: "The only thing I know is that a real Londoner, a real one, would never, ever, ever eat at one of those bloody Angus bloody Steak Houses in the West End."

Sukhdev Sandhu's Night Haunts is published by Verso.

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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Tue Nov 15, 2011 5:04 am

WTF??
********************************************************************************************************
US 'Wants FBI Agents At London Olympics'
Sky News

The US reportedly wants to send its own agents to protect athletes and diplomats at next year's Olympics - but the Government insists security plans are "on track".

America is preparing to send up to 1,000 agents - including 500 from the FBI - across the Atlantic next summer, according to The Guardian.

The newspaper reported that US officials have raised "repeated concerns" about security and are worried the UK has had to restrict the scope of anti-terrorism "stop and search" powers.

They are also reported to be anxious about the police response to the London riots .

Earlier this year, National Olympic security co-ordinator Chris Allison, of the Metropolitan Police, said he believed 12,000 officers will be needed nationally to police the event.

Another 10,000 to 15,000 security officials could also be deployed by firm G4S.

There are also plans to use large numbers of military personnel to police the games - including SAS troops stationed in boats along the Thames in case of a Mumbai-style terror attack.

A Home Office spokesman said: "Security planning is on track and funding has been protected. The Government is committed to delivering a safe and secure Games that London, the UK and the world can enjoy.

"The International Olympic Committee undertake detailed inspections of security preparations and have full confidence in our plans. The UK has a strong and close working relationship with the US, who have expressed similar confidence.

"The Government, London 2012 Organising Committee and G4S are working together to finalise the requirement for venue security and, as is common at major events in the UK, we will make the best and most appropriate use of all available resources."

Sky News' security editor Sam Kiley said: "Britain is a significant terrorist target... from the American perspective, you can't be too careful."

A Home Office source said it did "not recognise as true" suggestions that there are concerns from the US.

The US state department declined to comment, and the FBI was not available for comment.

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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Tue Nov 15, 2011 5:15 am

London 2012 - Ground-to-air missiles 'to protect Olympics'

Mon, 14 Nov 16:29:00 2011


Security forces could deploy ground-to-air missiles to protect the Olympic Games in London, the Defence Secretary has said

Philip Hammond revealed the plans to Parliament when his predecessor Liam Fox asked him to confirm the level of "defence and deterrents" at the Games.

Mr Hammond said: "I can assure him that all necessary measures to ensure the security and safety of the London Olympic Games will be taken including - if the advice of the military is that it is required - appropriate ground-to-air defences."

The remarks follow reports that the United States is planning to send a 1,000-strong force of its own, including 500 FBI agents.

It is thought Mr Fox would have been aware of the plans, and "planted" the question to allow Mr Hammond to explain the extent of British security in London.

In response to criticisms that cuts in funding will leave the Games vulnerable to terrorist attacks, a Home Office spokesman said: "Security planning is on track and funding has been protected.

"The government is committed to delivering a safe and secure Games that London, the UK and the world can enjoy.

"The International Olympic Committee (IOC) undertake detailed inspections of security preparations and have full confidence in our plans. The UK has a strong and close working relationship with the US, who have expressed similar confidence."

Last week it was reported that elite SAS troops will have a base at the Games, and will use East London's network of waterways to navigate the Olympic Park.

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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Tue Nov 15, 2011 5:34 am

With security so tight around the London 2012 Olympic sites, ill-intentioned felons will surely target other areas of the capital, paticularly its transport network.

I can't say much about the confidential document circulated to LU staff about what to do in the event of a terrorist attack during the Olympic Games, but a very brief synopsis might read:

1. Run like fuck.
2. Be prepared to get shot by armed police if you show signs of agitation.


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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Fri Feb 03, 2012 5:51 am

Heads up for UK ATU-ers.

Channel 4 documentary 10pm tonight: Confessions from the Underground. All about my job. This from the Channel 4 website:



Over a billion passengers a year. And 19,000 employees. All facing a daily battle with the world's oldest subway system: the London Underground.

This documentary provides a rare glimpse into the depths of the iconic Tube network that passengers don't see, as workers reveal the dilemmas and pressures that they must reconcile to keep this hugely complex and strained system running.

Actors voice the precise words of the workers: train drivers, maintenance workers, station staff and controllers. They negotiate the difficulties of storing dead bodies after suicides and the hazards of fixing signal failures within an ageing infrastructure.

They confront aggressive passengers and emergency incidents and try to make sense of a bewildering array of procedures and targets.

Ever wondered why you've heard a 'good service' announcement over the tannoy even when you've been stuck on a train for the past 10 minutes?

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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Fri Feb 03, 2012 5:58 am

Dead bodies stored in cupboards on the Tube

The bodies of people who commit suicide on the London Underground network are often stored in cleaning cupboards and store rooms until an undertaker can collect them, a new documentary has revealed.


Photo: Alamy

By Martin Evans, Daily Telegraph

7:09AM GMT 02 Feb 2012

Around 50 people a year kill themselves on the London Underground, equating to approximately one every week.

As well as the tragedy for the individual and their families, suicides on the Tube can create hours of chaos and disruption for millions of other passengers.

So to try to get the transport network up and running as soon as possible bodies are often moved to a secure room within the station until they can be taken away by an undertaker.

The shocking revelation was made by London Underground staff on a new documentary about the Tube.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, several workers expressed their disgust at the practice.

One male member of the Tube’s Emergency Response Unit said leaving bodies in cupboards was very disrespectful.

He told Channel 4’s Confessions from the Underground: “As far as I understand it, London Ambulance services have limited resources and a few years back they stopped taking anybody who’s deceased into their ambulances back to hospitals.

“Sometimes there’s a delay, it might be half an hour, maybe even two hours and then we’re left with a body on the platform and disturbingly for us we have to find a place to put a body. “Unfortunately, we had to use, at Stratford, a bin store outside in the car park, you know the big, massive, industrial bins. Putting someone’s body in there, not in the bin, in with the bins, it’s not really respectful.

“However, do I keep the station shut until the coroner and his guys gets there and inconvenience the rest of London?”

Another female worker said many staff found it deeply distressing to know that bodies had been hidden from the public in cupboards.

She explained: “I know that we’ve got a store cupboard that we put the bodies in and there is one station supervisor who will not go in that cupboard at all.”

Another worker added: “We’ve even heard of situations where cleaners come down to get a mop or a bucket or whatever and there’s some poor unfortunate person’s body in there.”

A spokesman for London Underground explained workers were offered support and counselling should they need it.

The spokesman said: “Following agreed procedures, a body may be moved to a secure room within the station to await collection by undertakers. We believe our staff do a fantastic job in responding to such difficult circumstances and they are offered counselling support, if necessary.”

Confessions from the Underground will be broadcast on Channel 4 on February 2 at 10pm.

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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Fri Feb 03, 2012 6:04 am

A comparatively uneventful day on London's Tube system:


Roberto Trm.

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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Fri Feb 03, 2012 3:30 pm

^

Watched the TV doc last night. Not bad. Certainly more realistic than the corporate bullshit partially exposed in the prog.

It's probably unfair to quibble, but NO TV doc will ever quite capture the kind of surreal mayhem that occurs every minute on the gateline of a Tube station.

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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Fri Mar 02, 2012 11:22 am

What has Boris Johnson actually done for London?

He's 'a mayor for the good times'. But that didn't help the capital's top politician deal with last year's riots, and critics say he's achieved little beyond boosting his own profile. With the elections looming, we assess Boris's first term

Andy Beckett

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 29 February 2012 19.59 GMT


Boris Johnson and his 'Boris bikes' – will they be the lasting legacy of his time in office? Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

In the introduction to Sonia Purnell's boisterous, widely praised, otherwise comprehensive 2011 biography of Boris Johnson, there is one telling omission. Over nine pages she covers his hairstyle, family history and sexual infidelities; his slipperiness, dislike of confrontation and love of money; his theatricality, his heroes Winston Churchill and Benjamin Disraeli, and even his prospects of becoming a prime minister to match them. Yet nowhere does she mention a single Johnson policy from his current job, for which he will seek re-election on 3 May: mayor of London.

As governor of Britain and Europe's largest and most powerful city – many would say too powerful – Johnson has the biggest personal mandate of any British politician. He was elected in 2008 with 43% of first-preference votes: strikingly more, in a usually Labour-supporting city, than the 36% eked out by his party at the 2010 general election under his increasingly obvious rival David Cameron.

Johnson campaigned for the mayoralty with big, if airy, promises. In his manifesto and interviews, he undertook to "work flat-out" to make the often polluted, poker-faced and disorderly capital "the greenest city in the world"; to "make our streets safer"; to combat the city's "massive increase in incivility"; to "get Londoners moving" through a no-strike deal with the militant tube unions; in short, to "put the smile back on London's face".

Things have not quite worked out like that. Since Johnson's election, the city has endured its worst riots for 30 years. Its economy has experienced its most protracted period of low growth for at least as long. There have been more tube strikes than in both the mayoral terms combined of Johnson's predecessor, Ken Livingstone. And last year the city suffered its worst air pollution since 2003.

And yet, London under Johnson has not felt like a city in sharp decline. As under Livingstone, gleaming, much-needed new transport systems continue to open. New glassy towers continue to crowd the skyline. Tourists, immigrants and the international rich continue to come. Central London seems ever busier and smarter. The inner suburbs seem ever more teeming with restaurants, artists, revived public spaces and young entrepreneurs. Especially compared with the rest of Britain, in London it often feels as if the energy and swagger and hubris of the Blair era live on. The fading, depopulating city that existed from the second world war until the 90s seems long gone.

The ambiguous condition of the capital is reflected in the opinion polls. After years of comfortable Johnson leads, they now put him just behind or just ahead of Livingstone. How responsible is Johnson, exactly, for London's mixed fortunes since he took office? And when he returns to national politics – which, if he loses the mayoral election, could effectively be in weeks – what does his record in London suggest may lie in store for the rest of the country?

Because central government has for centuries been anxious about London's potential political clout, the mayor has limited powers, mainly confined to policing, transport and planning. "There is no mayoral car, chain of office or official accommodation," Purnell writes. In his office near the top of the modestly sized, slightly airless goldfish bowl of City Hall, Johnson inherited a small staff by Whitehall standards, fewer than 800-strong, "a set of cheap-looking office furniture, venetian blinds and a phone."


David Cameron and Boris Johnson at a London Olympics 'One year to go' ceremony in 2011. Photograph: Simon Webster/Rex Features

Before 2000 London did not have an elected mayor at all. Livingstone was the first. A native Londoner and London obsessive, who had already been the potent head of the Greater London Council (GLC) in the 80s, he exploited his narrow powers to the full, while always seeking to widen them. The results were considerable, including the congestion charge, the cashless Oyster payment system for public transport, and winning the 2012 Olympics bid.

Johnson, born in New York, never previously a London politician, has followed a different path. Three weeks into his mayoralty, he took a holiday in Turkey. Ever since, he has kept up his many extracurricular interests: sniping at Cameron, over issues from the number of police officers (too low in Johnson's view) to the 50% rate of income tax (which he thinks is too high); clowning on TV programmes such as Top Gear; and writing popular history books and a weekly Daily Telegraph column for which he is paid £250,000 a year, a sum he described in 2009 as "chicken feed", and of which he loudly gives a portion to charity.

Last year, Johnson told the Sunday Telegraph his favourite politician was Ronald Reagan. The telegenic, low-effort, professionally sunny American president had an appeal far beyond his party's usual rightwing voters. For his first months as mayor, like Reagan, Johnson seemed less interested in running things than setting a mood. "Bubbles in the champagne", Purnell records, was one metaphor his aides used for his desired role as a largely symbolic "chairman mayor". While Livingstone concentrated power in himself and a tight circle of old allies, Johnson delegated, to figures his administration recruited from business and London Tory councils such as Westminster.

Initially, it appeared a clever strategy. The press – then as now, mostly ready to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt – reported a new inclusive atmosphere at City Hall. Questions that had occasionally unsettled his campaign about whether, as a part-time politician with a limited appetite for detail and a short attention span, he was competent to oversee London, were neatly sidestepped. "Boris took office with virtually no expectations," says Tony Travers of the London School of Economics, the leading expert on the capital's governance. "That was a huge advantage."

Without a concrete vision for London, Johnson's administration concentrated initially on getting rid of things. Bendy buses, the western extension of the congestion charging zone, a 50% target for affordable housing, a plan to pedestrianise Parliament Square, a proposed £25 congestion charge for the most polluting cars, the mayor's official newspaper and PR sheet the Londoner – the grand schemes or follies of the later Livingstone years, depending on your perspective, were rapidly dismantled. Another fixture of Labour-run London, the relatively liberal head of the Metropolitan police Sir Ian Blair, was forced out. The consumption of alcohol was banned on public transport: an odd move, it seemed, for a supposedly hedonistic, libertarian sort of Tory mayor. But Johnson, Purnell reveals, does not drink much himself; for all his disarming messiness, a part of him likes to stay in control.

His cuts were in tune with the abrupt national mood switch from profligacy to austerity in 2008, and prefigured what his party would do in government. And like the coalition's cuts, while they were justified with neutral-sounding rhetoric about reducing waste, they were in fact shrewdly, even brutally, political. Johnson had won the mayoralty by just under 150,000 first-preference votes, but his success had relied heavily on the peripheral suburbs: his majority was 81,000 in the constituency of Bexley and Bromley alone. "Boris is an outer London phenomenon, and people in outer London are still quite dominated by their cars," says the transport writer Christian Wolmar. Johnson's pro-motorist policies have rewarded them. Meanwhile, his less palatable public transport policies, such as a 50% increase in bus fares since 2008, have most affected the poor and residents of the inner suburbs with fewest tube stations – London's heaviest bus users and most stubborn Labour supporters.

At other times, Johnson has been less deft. During 2008 and 2009, his delegating approach almost descended into chaos. Turf wars in City Hall, personal scandals, and a sense of directionlessness prompted a rapid succession of resignations. He lost three deputy mayors, Tim Parker, Ray Lewis and Ian Clement; his chief political adviser, James McGrath; and his Olympic representative, David Ross. Another deputy mayor, Simon Milton, died last year.

"Boris does find conflict and difficult situations much trickier than when things are going swimmingly," says Travers. As mayor and GLC head, Livingstone was the opposite. Yet in an important, largely unremarked way, mayor Johnson has increasingly come to resemble his predecessor. Since his first, fumbling months, he has stabilised his mayoralty by retaining and implementing large parts of Livingstone's blueprint for London.

A public cycle-hire scheme, like the already iconic "Boris bikes" without the cute alliteration, was being planned by the Livingstone administration almost a year before Johnson was elected. Cycling "superhighways", another eye-catching Johnson policy, were also first devised by Livingstone. Transport for London (TfL), the city's powerful public transport bureaucracy, remains full of senior Livingstone appointees. The London Living Wage, a higher minimum wage to reflect the capital's costliness, has been supported by Johnson to the surprise and delight of some commentators; it was advocated to less acclaim by Livingstone.


Boris Johnson and one of his new Routemaster buses. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Johnson also gained a rich inheritance of just-finished or ongoing public-sector building projects: Crossrail, Thameslink, the new Eurostar terminal at St Pancras, the refurbishment of the tube, the North London line and most of the city's main railway stations, the extension of the East London line and Docklands Light Railway, and, above all, the Olympics. "In some ways, Boris's policies are Ken-lite," says Travers. "Boris, luckily for him, has ended up cutting the ribbons. But he has also reasonably defended the vast public transport system in London. The bus and tube system haven't had any closures due to public sector austerity. New York has had subway lines and bus routes cut."

Johnson has helped sustain London's lingering sense of expansiveness with schemes of his own. With his flair for the visual and for the loaded political gesture, in 2008 he launched a public competition to design a modernised version of the legendary but increasingly impractical Routemaster bus, which Livingstone had removed from service. It started running on Monday. In 2008 Johnson also launched a project to create 2012 new "growing spaces" for food by this year, aligning himself with the vogue for allotments and local produce.

The latter programme is a little behind schedule: according to its website, 1,593 spaces have been established so far, and the deadline has slipped to "the end of 2012". A more serious charge is that Johnson's pet projects are luxuries rather than essentials. Wolmar calls the new Routemaster "a bit of a vanity": thanks to expenditure on development, delays, and salaries for its conductors, the tiny initial fleet of eight has cost more than £1m a bus.


Boris Johnson is confronted during a visit to Peckham a week after the riots. Photograph: Ray Tang/Rex Features

Similarly, "Boris bikes" are proving an expensive way to increase cycling. Over its first five years, the scheme is expected to cost £140m, of which sponsors Barclays Bank, despite having their company colours all over the hardware, are contributing less than a fifth. Income from rental of the bikes, even in the novelty phase of the first three months, was the equivalent of little more than £1m a year, according to Purnell. Finally, because the scheme is based in wealthy central London, which already has plentiful public transport, the bikes have had a narrow social impact: TfL says that regular users are "typically white men aged between 25 and 44, with a higher than average household income".

Johnson has not done as much for Londoners less like himself. In 2010 he defended the capital's housing benefit claimants against the "Kosovo-style ethnic cleansing" that he said could result from the coalition's cuts. But the courage of his stance was undermined by his sly knack for saying something outrageous – the "Kosovo" charge may have done more damage to Cameron's claim to be caring than any other anti-cuts soundbite so far – and then semi-retracting it. He quickly claimed he had been taken out of context.

A few months later, his limited grasp on London's social tensions was graphically exposed. In the months before the 2011 riots, "things were hotting up," says Simon Woolley, director of the well-connected ethnic minority lobby group Operation Black Vote. "One of the contributory factors was a breakdown in police-community relations." Unlike Livingstone, who had advisers who "acutely understood race inequality" and the effect it could have on policing, Johnson "has not made anti-racism a priority", according to Woolley. He cites the cancellation of Livingstone's anti-racism music festival Rise; a lack of ethnic minority workers on the Olympic site; and "well-meant but far too gimmicky" Johnson projects such as one for mentoring black boys, which has been dogged by allegations of incompetence and cronyism. "Black people warm to Boris's personality, his maverick status – I've seen him mobbed," says Woolley. "But they feel bitterly let down."

When the 2011 riots started, Johnson was on holiday in a remote part of Canada. For two days, he refused to come back. "I think the police are doing a very, very good job," he said, although the contrary was increasingly obvious. "My thoughts are very much with everybody who has suffered damage." When he finally returned, he did a walkabout in a ransacked part of south London, but his appearance in public failed to work its usual magic. "Why are you here now?" said a voice from the stony-faced crowd. "Three days too late," said another. Squinting uncomfortably in the sunlight, Johnson made a short, stumbling speech, full of perfunctory phrases and lacking either his usual zip or the necessary gravitas. Then he abruptly turned his back on the crowd and walked off, pausing only to wave vaguely at diners through the window of a restaurant.

"The riots encapsulated a nasty and out-of-control part of London's character," says Travers. "Boris is less at home in that world. He is a mayor for the good times."

Last year he told this paper, "What's so joyful about being mayor [is] that there are days you can do things that people like and enjoy. When I see the bicycles flowing around, I have a deep ... sense of creativity." This desire both to be loved and to play god is a necessary trait of big-city mayors. Livingstone had it; Johnson expresses it more openly, together with a wide-eyed wonder at London that seems simultaneously naive, endearing and calculated. On 3 May, London, often a city of crazes and bluffing and image, may, just, opt again for Johnson's child-like enthusiasm and shameless contradictions – the bicycling mayor who ran up £4,698 in taxi expenses in his first year – over Livingstone's more grownup and streetwise style of governance.

Yet truly significant rulers of cities, however many terms they serve, also leave a legacy. Sometimes it is national: in the 70s, Tory GLC leader Horace Cutler pioneered council-house sales and helped prepare the way for Thatcherism. Johnson's mayoralty, by contrast, has "not become the laboratory for Conservative policy many expected", writes Purnell. Nor has his relative popularity boosted his party more widely. The Tories did poorly in London in the 2010 general election and, mayoral polls aside, remain far behind Labour in the capital. Johnson's sole, permanent political priority, some Tories complain, is Johnson.

Unlike Livingstone, "he won't be seen as someone who profoundly changed the city", says Travers. Governing in a perpetual present, of walkabouts and witty phrase-making and overnight cramming for important meetings, eyes possibly on the greater prize of becoming PM, he has not, so far at least, shown the patience needed to reshape a stubborn, politically labyrinthine city. Even his Thames estuary airport scheme, "Boris Island", seems more of an attention-seeking sketch than a worked-through policy. Johnson, it is not widely known, has naturally tidy hair, and messes it up for the cameras – evidence of his shrewd and shameless play-acting, but also of ephemerality: even his unruly thatch doesn't last.

Travers suggests Johnson's one enduring contribution to London may be double-edged. "You can well imagine in a hundred years' time, people still talking about Boris bikes, just like people still talk about Belisha beacons," introduced to pedestrian crossings in the 30s by the transport minister Leslie Hoare-Belisha, and still in use today. "But like Belisha, no one will remember who Boris was."

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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Sun Mar 18, 2012 4:43 am

London, the most grotesque city in the world: haunt of Bashar, Boris and Ken

Even Dr Johnson would tire of modern London, where bigwigs welcome global scumbags and nobody else matters

Marina Hyde

guardian.co.uk, Friday 16 March 2012 22.00 GMT


'There are two Londons: the one where all but a few thousand live, and the one where, when another restaurant opens selling £70 steaks, the Range Rovered clientele cannot get a table for weeks.'

To be tired of London is to be tired of life, ran the famous declaration of Dr Johnson, who was denied the thrill of participating in an election that would anoint either Boris Johnson or Ken Livingstone the figurehead of his beloved city. Forgive the posing of a weary question I asked the last time this same banquet of choice was spread before the capital's populace, but if London is The Greatest City In The World, how come it's between Boris and Ken? Two more diversely ghastly individuals you could scarcely hope to find – yet each insists London is TGCITW, as do assorted luminaries of the capital's dysfunctional police force, Olympics minister Tessa Jowell, and any number of bigwigs who should receive a sustained electric shock every time they utter the cliche.

For it is in reading the pronouncements of another London doctor this week that the truest picture of modern London's attributes emerges. Dr Fawaz Akhras is not a doctor of letters, like Dr Johnson, but marks himself out as one of the capital's most exciting polymaths by the manner in which he apparently combines offering repulsively morally relativist advice to his son-in-law, the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, with his career as a Harley Street cardiologist. Do join me in a theatrical shrug and a muttered "Only in London!"

"Why did the UN Human Rights Council not meet [to discuss Libyan civilian deaths] and are now so concerned about the Syrians' deaths?" wonders our heartless heart surgeon – though I hasten to clarify that I do not mean to impugn his professional reputation as a mender of that most romanticised of human organs. After all, one of London's other charms is its status as the libel capital of the world, with it costing on average 140 times more to fight a libel action in London than it does in mainland Europe.

But I think I may avoid an appearance before m'lud for the mere observation that there is an intriguing Venn diagram intersection between doctors and people connected in some way to acts of violence. Middle East-wise, there was the Jordanian paediatrician-turned-al-Qaida-triple-agent, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Qaida CEO who also got his start in child medicine. (Again, let's not cast aspersions on al-Zawahiri's clinical competence – I have no reason to believe he was anything other than excellent, ending each consultation by presenting his little patients with a lolly and a sticker reading "I'VE BEEN BRAVE TODAY".) And there's Assad himself, who obtained his ophthalmology degree in London. Naturally.

Say what you will about TGCITW, there really is no place better for watching the gilded parade of international yuckery go by. In the past there was a sense that to get eyeballs on some of the real nasties, one had to travel overseas. But these days Londoners can just sit back and wait, safe in the knowledge that almost every global scumbag, or someone intimately connected to them, will pitch up in the capital sooner or later and find it quite the most accommodating place to spend time.

We've had so many delights through the doors that it becomes impossible to recall them all, but the most recent goldrush started back in 1998, when cuddly former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet skulked into London and gifted it the chance to perform his back surgery. Since then, the city has drawn the presence and property investment of innumerable international oligarchs, attached to many of whose names are whispered stories of how they preferred to dispatch their enemies, or gaily told tales of how they siphoned off somewhere or other's mineral wealth.

But London has cause to feel particularly proud of the thrusting generation of moderates whom the capital shaped in various well-endowed institutions and at soirees held in their honour at the highest level of metropolitan society, before sending them off into the Middle East to work their magic. Think of Saif Gaddafi, Bashar al-Assad and his wife – perhaps Vanity Fair, which last insisted London was swinging in 1997, could return to do a sarcastic "Class of" feature on the capital's most eye-catching governance alumni.

It took root under Thatcher but it was Blairism that presided over the capital's transition into full-blown creep haven – inevitable, given Tony's pathological admiration for the super-rich. The result is that it is now standard to note that there are two Londons: the one where all but a few thousand of the city's millions live, and the one where, when yet another Mayfair restaurant opens selling £70 steaks, the black Range Rovered clientele cannot get a table for weeks on end.

From the outside, the one increasingly eclipses the other. And thus, if I might make a pitch for inclusion in Pseuds' Corner, London is contracting as an idea. Where previously outsiders could get a sense of the richness of the city's culture, it is now increasingly difficult to get a sense of much else than London's richness – while for insiders, the sense of exclusion from that richness becomes more pronounced. The greatest city in the world does not care to accommodate its key workers within a one-hour, overpriced commute of their jobs, but plays enduringly attentive host to some of the most grotesque horrors of the age.

Twitter: @marinahyde

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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Mon Apr 23, 2012 2:12 am

London in the Eighteenth Century by Jerry White - review

London lives, magnificent and squalid

Faramerz Dabhoiwala

guardian.co.uk, Friday 20 April 2012 22.55 BST


Engraving of shipping on the Thames near London Bridge, circa 1750. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1700 London was already the biggest city in Europe; by 1800 it had become the largest in the world. It was home to both the most magnificent and the most squalid lives. In his new book, Jerry White does justice to both extremes – though his main focus is on the violence, disharmony and divisions of city life, from the routine abuse of women by their husbands to the Gordon Riots of 1780, which in a week destroyed 10 times more property than was damaged in Paris during the entire course of the French revolution.


London In The Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing
by Jerry White

He has produced a vast and impressive synthesis. Given the quantity of modern scholarship on 18th-century subjects, the wonder is not that White sometimes slips or misses things, but that he has managed to produce such a readable and well-judged overview of so many different themes. The book's five sections survey the capital's buildings, types of inhabitant, range of occupations, kinds of culture, and types of "power" – from the law to religion.

Its main achievement lies in the kaleidoscope of personal experiences – high and low, male and female – that it brings before our eyes. White excels at juxtaposing famous lives with those of obscure Londoners. Side by side with Robert Adam, Henry Fielding, and Eliza Haywood, we encounter countless men and women whose stories, unknown even to specialists, he has industriously truffled out from printed and manuscript sources.

To illustrate relations between servants and their employers, for example, we meet the successful fencing master Domenico Angelo, having returned to London unexpectedly one evening in 1763, indignantly writing to his wife about the shambles he has found at home (White preserves his gloriously Italianate spellings, which I have simplified): "I find my poor Little Sophie in Mr Vernon's room sitting on a chair, Paris and Mr Vernon fast asleep upon the bed. My dear Girl as soon as she saw me she screamed aloud 'my dear Papa', waked the two pigs, and the sweet soul was pleased to come into my arms." Elsewhere, we are transported inside the head of the Cambridge student George Cumberland in 1774, reluctantly embarking in the stagecoach for London: "I mounted the ladder of the Coach as slowly as a Criminal does the Ladder at Tyburn, with this difference – he because his Journey is so short, I because my Journey was so long, dreading fat Arses & Sick Stomachs …"

Relations between the sexes are a central theme – not least the promiscuity of men in every class, and the often startling ways in which it was condoned and facilitated by women. "Mr Thrale told me he had an ailment," recorded the brewer's wife and bluestocking Hester Thrale in 1776, "& shewed me a Testicle swelled to an immense size": he'd caught the pox from one of his endless affairs. So what did she do? "I am preparing Pultices", she wrote, "and fomenting the elegant Ailment every Night & Morning for an hour together on my Knees". That is not a picture often sketched of the indefatigable hostess and benefactor of Dr Johnson.

The same unflinching treatment is in evidence throughout: if you've ever wondered what it was like to die in the pillory, to suffer from advanced syphilis, to be robbed by a highwayman or to make your living from pick-pocketing, then this is the book for you.

White is especially good on the sheer filth and discomfort of city life. In the summer of 1708 the plague of flies was so dense that dead insects fell like snow in the streets, deep enough to leave footprints in. Bed bugs were such a ubiquitous nuisance that even the king had his own "Bug-Doctor", a Mr Bridges of Hatton Garden. Most of the raw sewage produced by the capital's million inhabitants went into the Thames – which also provided much of the population's drinking water. Small wonder that life expectancy in London was much lower than anywhere else in the country. A shockingly high proportion of children died young: in most years, infants made up between 40% and 50% of all London burials.

Sometimes the book's exhaustiveness can be overwhelming. The first two chapters will be heavy going for readers who don't necessarily want a street-by-street, square-by-square survey of the expansion of every part of the metropolis in this period. Roy Porter's London: A Social History covers many of the same themes at a snappier pace and also gives a better sense of where the 18th century fits in London's overall history, from the Romans to the present.

White is the author of two previous volumes, on the history of London in the 20th and the 19th centuries. His evident love for the city lifts the prose, but it also limits his vision (as does his having approached the subject backwards, chronologically speaking). So overwhelmed is he by the desire to describe every facet of 18th-century London in detail that he rarely pauses to consider what was new or different about it all, or how it compared to life elsewhere. That can be misleading. The mockery of boorish citizens, for example, was a feature of London's drama long before 1700. The 18th-century explosion of social clubs and freemasonry was a much more general English (and indeed European) phenomenon than is implied here. The extraordinary sexual freedom that he chronicles was new and unprecedented. And though the Scottish enlightenment is mentioned in passing, there is no index entry for the English variety, or any explicit discussion of London's central role in it.

All the same, one of my favourite facts in the book is a comparative one. There were, he tells us, far more wooden-legged men in 18th-century London than in any other city in Europe. It's the kind of telling detail that sticks in the mind, that conjures up an entire lost world, and that Jerry White uses time and again to animate his wonderful panorama.

• Faramerz Dabhoiwala's The Origins of Sex is published by Allen Lane.

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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 29, 2012 12:27 pm

Borisopolis: London under Boris Johnson

The Emirates Air Line cable car, new Routemasters, decluttered streets, the Olympic Orbit sculpture… after four years of Boris Johnson as mayor, London is a mixture of vanity projects and a few good ideas

Rowan Moore

The Observer, Sunday 29 April 2012


‘As much in love with the grand gesture as anyone’: Boris Johnson in the Royal Docks, 2011. Photograph: Julian Makey/Rex Features

Mayors love buildings. They love the opportunities to pose in hard hats, to make their mark on their cities, to leave permanent monuments of their reigns and to demonstrate in the most tangible possible way that Something Is Being Done. Mayors have also been known to use large contracts and profitable planning consents to return favours to their supporters in construction and development and, in some disreputable cases, to take kickbacks themselves.

London mayors have more reasons than most to like planning, architecture and design, as these are areas within their relatively limited range of powers where they have some influence. They oversee the London plan, which guides the future development of the city, and have the power to approve or refuse significant planning applications. They have budgets that can be spent on the city's public spaces.

Ken Livingstone, in his last incarnation as London mayor, pursued a policy of unstoppable growth, based on his belief, since discarded, in the permanent revolution of financial services. Nothing should stand in the way of developers erecting buildings that would serve the banks that would make the money, a portion of which could then be extracted to pay for the affordable housing that was made more necessary by the high property prices caused by the boom in financial services.

He adopted Richard Rogers's idea of the "compact city", that it was good to densify and intensify the centre of London, rather than let it sprawl horizontally into the green belt. The results of his dash for growth, combined with the compact city, were a series of towers pushed through the planning system with Livingstone's support: some, such as the Shard, are now being completed; some are poking their concrete lift cores into the air; some remain computer-generated images awaiting the funds to be turned into reality. Livingstone also pursued, with partial success, a policy of creating "100 public spaces", based on Barcelona's renewal of its streets and squares.

Then came Boris Johnson, who has shown himself as much in love with grand gestures as anyone, although with limited funds to achieve them. He has therefore thrown himself behind the London River Park, a privately financed plan for a series of pontoons floating in the Thames that, while they will have some benches and green stuff here and there, will also have extensive corporate hospitality areas to pay for the project. He backed the Emirates Air Line, a cable car that may or may not be functioning in time for the Olympics, in return for sponsorship which means that the airline will get its name on the tube map. He has slathered the streets with blue cycle lanes, a colour by happy coincidence close to the branding of the sponsor of Boris bikes, Barclays Bank.

He has promoted the Orbit, the 115m-high sculpture by Anish Kapoor next to the Olympic stadium, which reportedly arose from a chat between Boris and its sponsor, Lakshmi Mittal, in the gents' at the World Economic Forum in Davos. And, indeed, unless there is some so far hidden genius to this structure, which will reveal itself once the public is allowed to explore it, it currently looks to me very much like a lot of steel and money pissed into the sky, to no great purpose except the vanity of those involved. Johnson has presented images of the Eiffel Tower visible above Parisian apartment blocks and sincerely seems to believe that the Orbit will be no less impressive seen from the future residential developments on the Olympic site. I doubt it.

He has also backed the revival of the Routemaster bus, with the admirable intention of bringing back a bit of dignity and civility to public transport. These handsome if over-styled objects certainly lift the spirits in rare sightings along the 38 route – there are eight currently in operation – but until they become the standard rather than the exception they will remain in the category of rhetorical flourish.

But if Johnson's monuments suffer from the columnist's love of making a splash, his mayoralty has been more impressive when it comes to things that are barely visible, or about taking stuff away rather than adding it. Recently, without much discussion or brouhaha, railings and barriers disappeared from London's major roads, as part of a programme of "decluttering". The theory is that if pedestrians and cars are less nannied by safety features, they will take greater responsibility for their own actions and behave more safely, with the added benefit that the streets look much better.

The experience of High Street Kensington, which was decluttered some years ago, suggests that it works. No one yet knows for sure if the changes to London's other roads will save lives or cause carnage of Charge of the Light Brigade proportions, and if it's the latter it will come to seem like a very bad idea. Assuming it does not, decluttering represents a significant change in attitude to city streets – they are seen more as places to inhabit than as machines for channelling the movement of people and cars.

Slightly more visible are the removal of the gyratory systems at Piccadilly Circus and elsewhere, and the X-shaped pedestrian crossing at Oxford Circus, devices that rebalance the relationship of pedestrians to vehicles in favour of the former. There is also the remaking of Exhibition Road, an impressive if partly compromised attempt to realise the concept of a "shared surface", where people coexist with cars, on a large scale.

Johnson's officers have been trying to direct limited funds towards reviving London's more obscure zones. There are officially 600 high streets in the capital, and Johnson has available £250m or so to spend on improving them, which works out at less than half a million per high street, which isn't very much. The idea, therefore, is to do a lot with a little, to connect better the suburb of Rainham, for example, with its beautiful marshes; to put up a new sign on the library on Ponders End; to make a street market work better; to spruce up the lesser-known parks. It is arguably the closest any Tory politician has come to realising the fast fading idea of the Big Society.

It's not all that much, but it is in principle an intelligent use of scarce resources and is more effective than a grand plan of Livingstone's for an area called Barking Riverside. This would have used up more than twice the budget at Johnson's disposal for the whole of London on the infrastructure necessary to make it work. Meanwhile Johnson has also introduced minimum standards of space for new homes, including such things as balconies that are large enough to have some use. Developers predicted that this interference with their right to design very mean homes would make house building altogether impossible, but it has not turned out to be the case. Whatever the problems currently afflicting the construction industry, this has turned out to be the least of them.

As for skyscrapers, the recession has reduced the number of controversial proposals landing on Johnson's desk, although he did turn down a ridiculous plan for a huge glass funnel next to Battersea Power Station. On this occasion he resisted the temptation to identify himself with a pointless spike.

This, then, is Borisopolis: a combination of show-off whatsits and fairly sensible stuff. When it comes to public space there is not a fundamental difference between Labour and Tory, Livingstone and Johnson. Both think it's a Good Thing and both have an idea of a city that favours pedestrians and cyclists more than it did before. Johnson and his administration do however deserve credit for getting some things done that make London, in a modest way, a better place to live.

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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 29, 2012 6:03 pm

Looking forward to burrowing into the London clay in the always interesting company of Peter Ackroyd:
***************************************************************************************************************


SYNOPSIS (from the Waterstone's website):

From the author of the bestselling London: The Biography, a poetic and powerful urban history of life and legend beneath London.
This is a wonderful, atmospheric, historical, imaginative, oozing little study of everything that goes on under London, from original springs and streams and Roman amphitheatres to Victorian sewers and gang hide-outs. The depth below is hot, much warmer than the surface and this book tunnels down through the geological layers, meeting the creatures that dwell in darkness, real and fictional -- rats and eels, monsters and ghosts.

There is a bronze-age trackway under the Isle of Dogs, Wren found Anglo-Saxon graves under St Paul's, and the monastery of Whitefriars lies beneath Fleet Street. In Kensal Green cemetery there was a hydraulic device to lower bodies into the catacombs below -- "Welcome to the lower depths." A door in the plinth of statue of Boadicea on Westminster Bridge leads to a huge tunnel, packed with cables -- gas, water, telephone. When the Metropolitan Line was opened in 1864 the guards asked for permission to grow beards to protect themselves against the sulphurous fumes, and called their engines by the names of tyrants -- Czar, Kaiser, Mogul -- and even Pluto, god of the underworld.

Going under London is to penetrate history, to enter a hidden world. "The vastness of the space, a second earth,"
writes Peter Ackroyd, "elicits sensations of wonder and of terror. It partakes of myth and dream in equal measure."

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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Fri May 04, 2012 1:23 am

It's the London Mayoral election today (Thursday 3 May).

The polls put the incumbent Tory Boris Johnson ahead of Labour's Ken Livingstone in a re-run of the last London mayoral election.

This bucks the trend of the two parties' respective standing in national opinion polls which put Labour ahead.

Livingstone's campaign was damaged by both an ill-advised attack on Johnson's tax-paying record (Livingstone- it transpired- had set up a company to handle the tax affairs, amongst other things, on his own income from media work) and by the tears he shed at a documentary promoting the hopes of 'ordinary' Londoners for his re-election, when it transpired that the people in question were agency actors working from a script.

Through gritted teeth, I cast my vote for Livingstone but I rather fear that Johnson's carefully-contrived Bertie Woosterish "O, what a silly ass I am" act is going to win the day again.

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Re: Londoners

Post  pinhedz on Fri May 04, 2012 2:51 am

Someone named Lubin Odana posted a set of guidelines for social interaction with Londoners.

Anyone can see that London is actually extremely diverse, so obviously these guidelines at most are only useful for interaction in certain circles:

a) making fun of "the north" and my northerner status in a self-deprecatory way. This makes them feel validated. I try not to tell them my true feelings about London, which are usually mixed at best. For example, when I arrived in London, I was instantly struck down with a feeling of dread and depression - the noise, the crowds, the bad smells, the filth in the streets, the confident extroverts... "If there's one place I hate most in the world," I growled, "One place which sums up everything I hate about London... it's Soho..." Needless to say, I ended up being invited to Soho by my new friends for a trip round the bars. I had to pretend I liked it.

b) telling them that I "hate everything". Londoners like to project a jaded, seen-it-all, worldly air and tend to get impatient with ingenues, once their initial exoticism has worn off (after 5 minutes). So it's best to beat them at their own game here. It keeps them on their toes.

c) Pointing out that "this bar/building/film/restaurant already looks dated or will look dated in 2 weeks".

d) Giving everything an ironic sheen. If you couch everything in ambiguity and ambivlance then it at least keeps their attention up.

e) Making references to things that are either very very new or very old. Londoners like to keep up to date with the latest trends, or be ahead of the trends. Telling them about something new will get them excited. You can only talk about old stuff if it's at least 20 years old and has therefore recently become fashionable in terms of being "kitsch" or "classic". However, you have to be careful here as recycled trends also have a shelf life and you could be talking about last month's revival which is now naff again.

f) Not getting impatient when they are late. And late they are. I have a "thing" about time-keeping. If I am not on time, I start getting panicky and worrying about keeping other people waiting. Many Londoners like to arrive fashionable late, or rather, they just aren't that concerned about things like time. I tend to get a bit sulky and passive-aggressive if people are late and keep me waiting. It feels like a social slap in the face. However, when I'm in London, I try and relax this rule - even arriving for things late myself (although I'm always the first one there still). So when the powerpoint presentation I was due to see didn't start until an hour after it was supposed to, I simply beemed serenely and had a bagel with smoked salmon on it. (I normally don't touch the stuff, but in London everyone eats this sort of food and I feel lucky to escape going to a Sushi bar).

I gave myself a score of 7 out of 10 for my social interactions with Londoners during the weekend. I took off three points because a) I asked someone if they were carrying a photograph of Myra Hindley around with him - it turned out that it was the photo on his subway pass. And b) I confessed that I had never taken cocaine and then acted a bit surprised when someone told me he had last taken it a few hours ago.

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Re: Londoners

Post  pinhedz on Fri May 04, 2012 2:52 am

Things found while looking for something else:


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Re: Londoners

Post  pinhedz on Fri May 04, 2012 2:54 am

"We come to show Wales to Londoners" Very Happy


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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Fri May 04, 2012 4:06 am

Pinhedz wrote: "Someone named Lubin Odana".

If the social interaction described was the most problematic this individual encountered in London a guardian angel must have been guiding every dainty footstep.

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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Sat May 05, 2012 3:22 pm

Boris Wins London Mayor Race Amid Tory Woes
Sky News


Boris Wins London Mayor Race Amid Tory Woes

Boris Johnson has been re-elected as London mayor, defeating Labour's Ken Livingstone - a consolation prize for Conservatives after a grim day for both coalition Government parties at the polls.

The Tory polled 1,054,811 to Mr Livingstone's 992,273 following a bitter campaign battle that saw the two men clash furiously in public and in private.

Mr Johnson vowed to continue "fighting for a good deal for Londoners" from government as he thanked voters for giving him a "new chance".

The mayor outperformed his party, which suffered a significant drubbing in local elections nationally.

But no mayoral candidate won enough votes in the first round to secure victory, meaning second preferences had to be counted.

Mr Livingstone's defeat by the wafer-thin margin of 48.5%-51.5% to Mr Johnson prompted an immediate announcement of his decision not to stand again.

"This is my last election," Mr Livingstone told fellow candidates and supporters at City Hall.

"Forty-one years ago almost to the day, I won my first election on a manifesto promising to build good council housing and introduce a free bus pass for pensioners.

"Now I've lived long enough to get one myself... since then, I've won 11 more elections and lost three. But the one I most regret losing is this.

"This is the defeat I most regret, because these are the worst times for 80 years, and Londoners needed a mayor to get them through this very difficult period by cutting fares, by cutting energy prices and putting people back to work building good council homes."

Labour secured eight of the London Assembly's 14 first-past-the-post constituencies, gaining two from the Tories, which left them with six.

Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick was pushed into a humiliating fourth place after polling 91,774 votes, compared to the 98,913 secured by the Greens' Jenny Jones.

Political newcomer, Independent Siobhan Benita, took fifth with 83,914. Ukip's Lawrence James Webb polled 43,274 while the British National Party's Carlos Cortiglia came last with 28,751.

Counting, which is carried out electronically, was dogged by delays, pushing back the result back significantly on original predictions that it would be announced in the early evening on Friday.

They included a power cut at Alexandra Palace as well as the reprocessing of two mislaid batches of ballot papers in the Brent and Harrow constituency.

Mr Johnson's victory goes some way in restoring pride to the election-battered Tories, after the party lost more than 400 seats in the local elections .

In further bad results for the coalition, the Lib Dems lost more than 380 seats following voting in England, Wales and Scotland.

As well as the London battle, a series of cities across the country held referendums on whether to have elected mayors.

Nottingham and Manchester were among the nine cities to reject the idea - another major blow for Tory Prime Minister David Cameron , who supports the policy.

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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Sat May 05, 2012 4:01 pm

So, Boris Johnson remains mayor – and it's not all Ken Livingstone's fault

It was nail-bitingly close but, despite his terrible record, Johnson won. Who's to blame for this triumph of image over substance?

Dave Hill

guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 May 2012 23.57 BST


'It's hard to imagine a figure so big and so immersed in London politics [as Ken Livingstone] disappearing from them yet.' Photograph: Denis Jones / Associated Newspap

Boris Johnson's narrow re-election as London's executive mayor is a shiny consolation for a Conservative party battered in elections elsewhere, but a glum result for London and for the institution of London mayor itself. In 2008 Johnson inherited good policies and big budgets from his Labour predecessor Ken Livingstone, whom he has vanquished for a second time. But the celebrity Tory begins his second term with less cash and little ideological inclination to put the recently increased powers at his disposal to good use.

His first four years were characterised by much civic jollity of the type associated with ceremonial, gold-chain mayors and, in policy terms, an ever-closer conformity to Tory type – a journey confirmed two years ago by the arrival of David Cameron in No 10. His over-reported rivalry with his fellow Conservative has helped conceal the two men's shared political goals, illustrated in Johnson's case by the cultivation of links with powerful media and business interests, a preoccupation with cutting "waste" whatever the consequences and, most importantly, a regressive approach to urban development dignified as "listening to Londoners".

One of the cliches walked most regularly round the block is that the London mayor is little more than a glorified bus service regulator, but the scope of the office, though limited, is greater than that. The job also attracts a big spotlight, and with it big chances to lobby and protest.

Johnson's first-term record, closely monitored by a handful of journalists and independent bloggers, reveals little inclination to tackle the deeper structural, environmental and social impediments to London's long-term progression as an efficient, generous, capitalist metropolis. Road-traffic congestion, over-priced public transport, poor air quality, a chronic and corrosive accommodation crisis and a frightening, sometimes criminal, disaffection among many of London's young have gone unchallenged to the point of neglect.

For all the fuss made about his occasional public deviations from the government's line, Johnson's approach is in tight alignment with it. Far from being an autonomous defender of Londoners' interests, the mayoralty is now effectively an instrument of central government policy. Johnson is already compliant with Westminster-imposed damage to employment, housing and welfare in concert with aggressive, Tory-run boroughs. He could block, impede and loudly complain. A Mayor Livingstone would have done so.

Johnson's 2012 campaign has been – as barely needs saying – a triumph of public image over policy substance. Aided by its multitude of press allies it has succeeded in its aim of reducing the election to a personality contest, aided by most of the media at large. Turnout has been low, often a sign that negative campaigning has turned voters off the whole idea of following the debate and going to the polling station – another objective of the Johnson operation as low turnout usually hits Labour hardest. Though Livingstone has thrown mud as well, far more has been slung at him and some has surely stuck – perhaps enough to make the difference between defeat and what would have been a sensational political comeback.

For Livingstone, resilient though he is, this defeat by such a painfully slender margin will be hard to bear. His comeback plans were under way almost before Johnson had located his eighth-floor office at City Hall four years ago. He now finds himself rejected by a London electorate that has otherwise swung his party's way. The end of a gruellingly personalised contest has ended in a very personal defeat.

It's hard to imagine a figure so big and so immersed in London politics disappearing from them yet. But if this second defeat doesn't deter Livingstone from trying again in 2016 – don't rule it out – it will surely persuade the Labour top brass to prevent him once more being the party's candidate. Complaints that it should have done so well before this year's contest have long been academic. As soon as the selection timing and mechanism were arranged, there was only going to be one outcome.

Livingstone is the long-time favourite of London's unions and activists, and it was they who did the picking. Several names were floated as possible challengers but only two were truly interested. Tottenham MP David Lammy opted out because he knew he would be crushed. Oona King gave it a go, and was. There was a "Ken problem" throughout the mayoral campaign itself. This partly arose from some voters considering him old news. But it seems unlikely that none of his 30 year-old loyalist vote remained. Would Lammy or King have inherited all of that? Would they have had more luck denting the "Boris bonus" that has made him so much more popular than his party? It's hard to know, but already beside the point.

A sad part of his defeat is that Livingstone has brought some of his misfortune on himself. If his strength – often boldly displayed during his own two terms as mayor – has always been a far-sighted independence and strategic grasp that Johnson lacks, his weakness has been an obdurate inability to acknowledge error or mend fences with critics where possible.

Over the years some – including people on his own side politically – have taken against him with good cause, but other foes have the hallmarks of cranks. Among the latter, his losing will leave a large hole – imagine truthers being deprived of 9/11. Ian Jack, reviewing Livingstone's autobiography in the London Review of Books, writes that the animosity directed at him from the fourth estate "represents one of the most sustained hate campaigns in the history of the British press". He adds that while Livingstone emerges from the book not very likeable, "set his faults against those of his persecutors in the media and they begin to look quite trivial". How true.

With City Hall remaining in Tory hands, the most significant politics in London over the next few years may well take place elsewhere in the capital, perhaps as borough and neighbourhood level resistance against the social division and dislocation that the coalition's actions are worsening. The coming Olympics may put a gloss over London's troubles, much as Johnson's win may do for his party. But those troubles are not going to go away.

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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Sat May 05, 2012 4:08 pm

Ken Livingstone: a London heavyweight brought down by his baggage

Labour's former mayor had powerful forces against him, not the least of which was his own past

Hugh Muir

The Guardian, Saturday 5 May 2012


Ken Livingstone was never able to give his London mayoral campaign momentum. Photograph: Rosie Hallam/Getty Images

The record will show that the era of Ken ended just before midnight, 4 May 2012. And that moment did seem to carry some historical significance. Certainly, it was emotional.

The beaten 66-year-old Labour candidate, wearing grey suit, blue shirt and yellow tie, stood at one remove from his great rival, separated by Jenny Jones. His result was called fourth and he fingered the speech he had prepared. As Johnson was declared the winner, he surveyed the packed chamber at City Hall. His cheeks bulged. He gave a resigned smile.

When he spoke, he said this would be his last election. "Forty-one years ago almost to the day, I won my first election on a manifesto promising to build good council housing and introduce a free bus pass for pensioners. Now I've lived long enough to get one myself. Since then, I've won 11 more elections and lost three. But the one I most regret losing is this.

He apologised to his supporters and to Ed Miliband for failing to retake the mayoralty; an effort hampered by an "incredible media battering", not to mention a tide of "negativity and smears". "These are the toughest times for 80 years," he said. "Londoners needed a mayor to help them get through this very difficult period. They will continue to bear the pain of this recession without any help from here in City Hall."

But the first draft of history isn't always the most reliable. Yes, defeat was confirmed at that moment at City Hall. Crushing as it was, Friday's result merely took him to an all but inevitable destination. There is no doubt that throughout a long campaign he showed a better grasp of policy than his opponents. He spoke persuasively on housing, on the environment, on transport, on policing. He worked hard, in inner and outer London, and displayed many of the qualities that would have made him a successful mayor again. But he also carried so much political and personal baggage that it always seemed unlikely he would get the chance to deploy that knowledge unless he found a way to reach a new settlement with the electorate that rejected him last time.

He must have known that. Labour's establishment knew that. He never found that settlement. He ended the race polling behind his opponent, but also polling behind his party; people who identified with Labour simultaneously felt they could not endorse its candidate. "I just can't vote for him," said one observer, a Labour MP. "He's past his sell-by date," said another Labour figure. "He has an extraordinary capability for annoying people," said another.

Why wasn't he elected? One core reason is that he failed to pin a blue rosette on Boris Johnson. "The Tory mayor," he said at every opportunity; Johnson and Cameron, "two peas in a pod". But Boris dodged that bullet. "On the doorstep," lamented one Labour bigwig, "people saw it as Boris v Ken."

Perhaps as significant was the fact that he was never able to decontaminate his brand. Of course there were powerful forces against him. For many Tories he remains forever Red Ken.

And then there was the press. The Murdoch papers and his perennial foes at the Mail and the Telegraph enjoy throwing punches at him almost as much as he likes throwing them back. These are constants. But he also took a battering from the Evening Standard, which, having apologised for biases in the past, threw yorkers at him, while bowling underarm at his opponent. Yes I would describe Boris as "a personal friend", the owner Evgeny Lebedev told Lord Justice Leveson.

Perhaps in the aftermath Livingstone will reflect on what may well have been the pivotal exchange of the entire campaign: a telephone call from his bete noire, the London editor of the Sunday Telegraph, Andrew Gilligan, who, while writing for the Evening Standard, did more than anyone to sully the reputation of Livingstone's last administration.

Gilligan fired a rocket about Livingstone's tax arrangements and the fact that he channelled earnings through a company. Not illegal, not unusual and, had it been any other journalist, Ken might have endeavoured to deal with it properly. As it was, he did not. Livingstone put the phone down, as was his right. But the shutters came down too.

Rightly or wrongly, the allegations stuck. It unsettled his own base. "This may be legal, but it isn't the sort of thing we should be doing," a prominent Labour figure said, voicing a good measure of grassroots disgruntlement. "It has traction whether we like it or not," said a colleague. "The Tories had leaflets that barely addressed anything else." When Livingstone came to the Guardian in April, much of the questioning related to his tax affairs. The same later in the day when he took questions at Mumsnet. It gave his political opponents a continuous narrative to use against him and provided a theme for the media outlets intent on wrecking any chance he had of a comeback. We still don't really know how the issue came to Gilligan's attention. But it was negative campaign gold. Livingstone was never able to give his campaign momentum. Johnson, as in 2008, short on detail and gravitas, fought an unremarkable campaign. But it didn't matter. The tax story hit directly at those who might have been willing to give Livingstone the benefit of the doubt. How many did it scare away?

And it was ruinous on another level, for throughout his years of vilification, Livingstone had been accused of many things, but he had never been accused of financial self-interest. He lives modestly in north-west London; shops with everyone else, takes the train. Now he was accused of hypocrisy and an eye for making a buck.

He might say that there was no way to neutralise the tax attack and that the only thing to do was soldier on with weapons such as fares and childcare and the anti-cuts campaign. But to do that effectively, he would have to avoid any other mishaps. He didn't.

How much damage did he inflict by failing to make peace with the Jewish political establishment, still sore over conflicts past: the insult to a Jewish reporter, the embrace of Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi? When in March he secretly met a group of senior figures who hoped to reach accommodation, why didn't he make nice? Instead he upset some again by referring to the Israeli government as Zionists and implying that "rich" Jews wouldn't vote for him anyway. "I can't say words that I do not feel in my heart," he once declared.

And yet the Livingstone who pitched up at Finsbury Park mosque was amiability itself. Misjudgment clothed as high principle.

On 23 January, two polls put Livingstone slightly ahead. Two weeks later, he handed another gift to his opponent. No one seriously questions his stance on equalities. But it was not smart to tell Jemima Khan that the new-look Tory party was "riddled with gays".

Self-harming and some accidents. He wasn't to know perhaps, that the real people in his election video – whose concerns reduced him to tears – were actors recruited by an advertising agency, but these misfortunes count when the plot is unravelling. For every step forward, two back.

Livingstone tried to shift the focus away from personalities. But it was a hard case to accept from someone whose brand signature, hitherto successful, is the singular use of his first name. He rose as a political personality, and he fell as a political personality because his personality was overwhelmed by the baggage it had acquired over years of largely distinguished public service. This was predictable. Many indeed predicted it in 2010 when Livingstone's long-held grip of the London Labour party saw him easily selected as the candidate.

"You never say never to a warrior like him," said a rueful colleague, but against a lacklustre mayor and unpopular government, a heavy hitter with less baggage might have done better. No one of that stature stepped up. The rest we know. It wasn't just Ken who failed.

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Re: Londoners

Post  eddie on Sun May 27, 2012 9:16 pm

Underground, Overground by Andrew Martin – review

The London tube system deserves this hymn of praise

Will Self

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 24 May 2012 09.00 BST


Going underground … the electrified bowels of London. Photograph: Linda Nylind

I don't know if I'm going to be able to convey – surely the apposite word – the full extent of my love of the London tube. It's a love that exists prior to any sense I have of an estrangement from the world – I suppose if I were inclined to all that Freudian malarkey I'd say that the tube is not "other" to me, for it – or possibly she – is no mere transitional object, but my very internalisation of Mother London herself. Let me expand: I grew up about 10 minutes' walk from East Finchley tube station, and I cannot properly remember a time when I didn't travel by tube. That said, the first regular journeys I clearly remember were when, aged about eight, I began going to school in Hampstead. My older brother and I would travel the five stops to Camden Town, change to the northbound Edgware platform, and go the further three stops to Hampstead. A more direct route was to take the 102 bus to Golders Green, but while I liked the 102 well enough – and especially the breakneck plunge from the back platform as the Routemaster caromed on to the station forecourt – I loved the tube.


Underground, Overground: A Passenger's History of the Tube
by Andrew Martin

I loved its foody-dusty-breathy warmth – a zephyr that seemed to be expiring from the bowels of the earth once the trains had sunk below Highgate Hill. I loved the frowsty look of my fellow-passengers, their faces creased by the ivory light, their clothes lying dishevelled on the dark red moquette. I loved the acrid stench of the smoking carriages – soon enough I was puffing along in them – and I adored the huge and creaky old lifts that winched you up the deep shaft at Hampstead, and which, with their brassy levers, wooden-slatted benches and concertina doors, were undoubtedly steampunk avant la letter. (Although, actually when you come to think of it, London's entire multi-layered infrastructure is, was, and always will be steampunk to the core. I remember seeing Terry Gilliam's Brazil for the first time in Leicester Square, then descending into the tube to be confronted by the same monstrous spaghetti of flaking ducts, and a convoluted mechanism made out of beige metal miniature Venetian blinds that had a small Bakelite sign attached to it which read "SPEAK HERE". I collapsed, helpless with laughter.)

Actually, my brother and I also adored the new lifts just then being introduced at Hampstead, because if you jumped up as they plunged down you experienced a split-second sensation of weightlessness, a spatial oddity perfectly in tune with 1969. As I grew older I explored the tube further. I can never claim to be like those eccentrics Andrew Martin writes about in this book, who strive to break the world record for the fastest trip to every one of the 270-odd (some very odd) stations on the network – indeed, I doubt I've got on or off at a fraction of these – but the tube remains coextensive with my own marrow, that's how much I feel it bred in my bones. With the run of the city, I would tube down to the museums in South Kensington – in the 1970s there was an exhibit there that consisted of a coal mine sunk several levels down into its basement. It was experiences of this form: rising from deep below ground to walk through a foot tunnel, rise up momentarily to the surface, and then descend once more into the bowels of a large public building that turned the urban world comfortably upside down.

In winter, when there were still thick fogs in London, you could easily get the sensation that the "outside" as usually understood, didn't really exist at all – that all there was were these lighted burrows connected by long tunnels through which we, the rat people, scuttled. Martin writes of the 60s and 70s as decades when the London tube was unloved – rundown through lack of investment, and out-glamorised by road transport. But for me this wasn't the case – indeed, the very epidermal tattiness of poster peeling away from poster peeling away from poster was its glamour. Besides, the salient moments in my life often occurred in or around the tube: I was violently assaulted one midnight in Chalk Farm tube station only minutes after seeing the Jam play "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight"; I missed out being immolated by the 1987 King's Cross fire by a matter of a half hour or so, as I walked up that fateful escalator en route to a karate class on Judd Street (and yes, I probably was smoking); I've been drunk on the tube more times than I care to think about; had sexual congress; and, on one hopefully never-to-be-repeated occasion, actually fainted on the platform at Camden Town during the rush hour, where I lay for about 10 minutes during which people stomped on and about me, before a kindly woman – a retired nurse, natch – tenderly got me on to a bench and pressed a boiled sweet between my lips. "They probably thought you were on drugs," she said, to explain away the indifference of the rather more acute masses.

What I'm trying to say is that the stylised statue of a Native American with his bow, who sits incongruously atop the softly Modernist prow of East Finchley Tube Station, was loosing me into the metropolis, and it's against this highly emotive background that I read Underground, Overground: it's a comprehensive book (Martin edited the tube talk column in the Evening Standard for some years), it's an amiable one, it's reasonably well-written, and it's by a man who clearly loves the tube. But, with the best will in the world, he simply ain't a native Londoner, so it isn't the smother love that we feel. True, as a teenager he would borrow his father's free pass (his dad worked for British Rail), and come down from York to ride the system, but for him it must always be something outside of himself, not the uncoiling of his own electrified bowels.

The story Martin tells, from the early cut-and-cover sections of the Metropolitan Railway in the 1860s, through to the colossal deep-bore tunnelling machines that will hollow out the 17 miles of the new Crossrail beneath the city centre, is, to the tube buff, a familiar one: Charles Pearson, the visionary of underground railways as a public good, is succeeded by others that Martin thinks of as "tube martyrs" – such as Watkin of the Met, the American Yerkes (the Sam Kiley of his day), Greathead of the tunnelling shield and Whitaker Wright of the Bakerloo – all men who died before their visions of the system could be fully realised. Then there are the successful tubesters: Albert Stanley, Frank Pick, Lord Ashfield, and the great designer Harry Beck, who between them really made the modern integrated network that we know today. This grand narrative is well-told by Christian Wolmar in his The Subterranean Railway, and Martin leans on his account, quoting extensively, as he does from Stephen Halliday's equally fine Underground to Everywhere, and from Stephen Smith's brilliantly whimsical Underground London.

But where Martin's book comes into its own is on the experiential aspects of tube travel – and this is what justifies its subtitle as a "passenger's history". Whether he is meditating on the vexed question of urinating on the live rail (would you survive?), or the flattering qualities – for women of a certain age – of the aforementioned ivory lights in the 1930s-vintage rolling stock, or uncovering the recording history of that great ambient hit "Mind the Gap", Martin is never less than engaging. He also mounts a spirited – and even to this sceptic, thoroughly convincing – defence of Ken Livingstone's tenure as London transport supremo, which should be required reading by public policy wonks all the way to the top. On balance, if you're a tube neophyte – I mean reading about it, as much as riding it – I would strongly endorse Martin's book as the stop to get on at. On the other hand, if you're an old baby like me, you probably needn't bother, as you've already sucked most of it in down that umbilicus some people call the tube.

• Will Self's new novel, Umbrella, will be published by Bloomsbury in August.

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