Monday, 30 November 2015

London Bridge is deteriorating

The British empire. Once ruling across over 25% of the entire Earth's landmass, several colonies trading ports and streams of income through the introduction of unfair trade policies, slave trade and institutionalized exploitation of its perceived 'enemies'. 

Fast forward a few quick centuries, and things look a little different.

Historic castles, bustling lanes, cramped quarters and the modernity of towering sky-scrapers standing before a backdrop of a perpetually gloomy sky. As stereotypical as it may have been, this was my impression of London before I touched down, abstract from all the history and ruin. (I thank the Sir Allan Sugar from the Apprentice UK for leaving me with such a slick impression in my mind.)

 To provide some background to our reasons for visiting (outside of the annual/biannual international vacation my family likes to take); in an age before mine, my mother undertook her undergraduate degree at the London School of economics, graduating in the class of 1983. Her story is one of wonderful and extravagant upbringing, forced independence, terrible misfortune and well-rounded adaptability and sharpness, something that I have already touched upon in a previous post.

But her sheer sense of nostalgia and longing to revisit the place where she undertook her education, the cobbled streets, milk vendors, gloomy weather and "halls of residence' she spoke so reminiscently of was the underlying reason for our visit. She spoke similarly of the grandeur of the castles, the theaters, some of the classier restaurants, the simultaneous politeness and aloofness of demeanor of the people she referred to as so quintessentially "British". If I were to analyse the psyche of my mum in a completely unprofessional context, I would actually refer some of these traits into her, coated with a generous layer of elegance grace and love.

This isn't to detract from one of the greatest parts of my visit: The sheer volume in number and enormity within of all the amazing Museums in the City. From the Imperial War Museum, to the Victoria Albert Museum of artifacts, to Tate Modern, I do not think any city can compare to the collected works of some of the most dizzying exhibitions I have ever seen (Take that New York!). Some things stuck out more than others, a Chinese illustration of the Yuan Ming Yuan Palace before the Western invasion depicted a beautifully crafted ancient Chinese place of worship (as much as religion fails to capture my attention) that anyone could garner respect for. The Tower of London provided a funny and yet historically accurate portrayal of the society and lives of the British aristocracy in a time long gone. 
And transport, oh the transport. Double-decker buses? Check. Amazing subway? Check. Easy access from the airport? Check. Ample space for tourists and visitors to use pedestrian allocated paths and bridges? Check, check check.

All in all, London is a place where the ruins hide an old and proud empire of a different history. At first glance you see two different cities, but in closer inspection you see the modern and the ancient seemingly together to complement each other. Parts of London are deteriorating, but as with many things, time will tell whether this will patched up in the years to come.

And then we arrived. My mother’s first words upon visiting Russel Square? “Goodness me what happened to this place, it looks deteriorated!”. Indeed she wasn't wrong. Outside our 'prestigious hote; in one of the most expensive and exclusive boroughs of London, next to the very London School of Economics she so lovingly referred to previously, the stones were falling out of the pavement. Moss covered all the corners, cold, distance faces looked out through covered hoods and seldom was English even heard on the normal streets. The cold dreariness appeared to soak into the very people around us, the service everywhere we went was generally rather unhelpful under the guise of a very English politeness. This continues on for an average tourist to bear witness to clear homelessness, urban decay and a general lack of trust and warmth seen in the eyes of the populace.

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