Richard of Devizes wrote in 1177:
I do not like the city at all. All sorts of men crowd there from every country…each brings its own vices and customs. None lives in it without falling into some sort of crime. Every quater abounds in grave obscenities. The greater the rascal, the greater man he is accounted…Do not associate with the crowd of pimps: do not mingle with the throng in eating houses: avoid dice and gambling, the theatre and the tavern…the number of parasites is infinite. Actors, jesters, smooth-skinned lads, moors flatterers, pretty-boys, effeminates, paederasts, singing and dancing girls, quacks, belly-dancers, sorceresses, extortioners, night-wanderers, magicians, mimes, beggars and buffoons…if you do not want to dwell with evil-livers, do not live in London. (A Thousand Years of Vice in the Capital: London The Wicked City, Fergus Linnane)
What strikes me about this observation is that nothing has changed. People still complain about foreigners and parents are afraid to let their youngsters loose in the lion’s den that is London. Sin and debauchery populate the city and to remain uncorrupted by the great Lion one has to be steadfast in one’s moral convictions: so it is thought. As I, in the year 2010, ponder the considerations of Richard of Devizes, 800+ years after the English chronicler wrote about London, a smurk appears on my face. In my mind, the very things that make the city of London deplorable to so many are what make it the fabulous, charming city that it is – from the haphazard grunge of Camden Town to the grandiose beauty of Westminster and the frenzied energy of central London. All of the aforementioned places have their own uniquely bewitching allure.
London is a city full of irony and contradiction. The transient tone of the city contrasts with the great sense of history and culture embedded in every brick and stone that has played a part in its construction. I have the acute awareness that everything and everyone around me has its or their own story. When I was on the tube the other day I was privy to a magical moment that was just so typical of London. There was a Camdenesque guy (gargantuan platforms, camo gear, a plethora of piercings and long hair streaked green and blue) who managed to grab a seat as the masses exited the train. Two jocks, the antithesis of Camdenesque, were also aiming to grab a couple of seats and asked Mr Camden to move one seat over so that the buddies could sit next to one another. Mr Camden, with his earphones protecting him from the outside world, graciously obliged. Jock number one was fascinated by Mr Camden’s tunnels (if you live in London and don’t know what ‘tunnels’ are then get with the program) and with the permission of Mr Camden, attempted to stick his finger through the giant hole in Mr Camden’s ear. It was a great scene to watch and I couldn’t help but think “only in London”.
I have these kinds of ‘London moments’ so very often and the more conscious I am of them, the more I treasure the extravagant, cosmopolitan city in which I live. I remember standing before the towering Gothic steeples of Westminster Abbey for the first time. As the martyrs and saints looked down upon me, the overwhelming magnitude of atmospheric history engulfed my person. It was a shiverific moment. England and its proud history, stitched together by the might of injustice, victory, murder, love and pain, seemed inescapably entrenched in the spot where I stood. And as I turned around, the scrappy tents and weathered posters of the adamant peace protesters camped outside the houses of parliament seemed to rip a hole in the fabric of the massive heritage that whirled around me. The conservativism of ‘the institution’ undermined by the determination and persistent ideology of a few. London: a place where ideas are big and acceptance is rampant.
One of my passions is metal (the music, not the element – again, get with the program) and one of my favourite things is going to gigs in the grand old theatres of the early 1900s, where huge riffs, screaming/growling vocals and double bass drumming invade the interior Art Deco delicacies of the: Brixton Academy, Forum, Hammersmith Apollo, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Koko and Astoria (one minute silence please). It’s magnificently disagreeable and positively diabolical.
Magnificently disagreeable and positively diabolical. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is London.