The London corner of the UK was dead set against Brexit. Grayson Perry’s Red Carpet kind of shows why – a corner of privilege set against the rest of the country. We saw his exhibition The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! at the Serpentine Gallery – his work is provoking, smart and highlighting the irony of white privilege championing art for human rights.
When I started learning English at school, one of the early texts we studied was Ralph McTell’s Streets of London. The story of inequlity in a wealthy country lit a fire that still burns bright. Why are some people so unbelievably wealthy, living in gilded flats in Kensington, with a country estate for hunting and pleasure, expensive cars, and children bording at the most exclusive ‘public’ schools, when others cannot scrape together enough for a meal? Compared with the 1960s, London is possibly less occupied today, with lots of housing owned by foreigners who visit occassionally, while others cannot afford to live here and those who do live in more affordable social housing risk their lives.
Yet, for the visitor, London is just fabulous, With its glamour, culture, diversity, history, and dirt. I have loved London since the first time I came with my parents and my older brother for one hot summer in 1974. It was great cultural experience and my young imagination was captured by the history of the place: the castles, the stories of royal conquest and deceit, the megalomanic empire building. However, the holiday could also have been a premature end of this lifelong fascination: it was sheer luck that we went to see the Crown Jewells in the triple armoured basement of The Tower of London, rather than the weapons in the rather vulnerable White Tower, that day when the IRA popped a bomb into a cannon. When we came out into the sunshine police were everywhere, Bobbies with batons, guiding us to the exit. Damn, said my brother, he really wanted to see those weapons. We read all about it in the Extra, Extra newspaper that our uncle-second-removed, Brian, bought on the way back to Hammersmith.
This time we also caught a heatwave, 31 degrees and the English were nearly melting. Even as a Queenslander I have to admit it was hot, with the asphalt steaming, the bridges creaking and the hot air pushed in front of the trains in the tube only marginally hotter than the ambient temperature on the underground platform. Our need for a cold drink was rewarded by a hand-pulled luke warm draft beer at The Dove. The pint was of course Fullers Pride of London, and we sat in the breeze on the back deck overlooking the Thames, watching the rowers launch their boats into its murky waters opposite. We reminded ourselves that the words to Rule Britannia were penned in this very pub, wondering how the Brits imagine their glorious future divorced from the Continent, and what this future will hold for London.
Enjoy this impression of London: