Friday, 20 November 2015

"And red mutant eyes gaze down on Hunger City..."

... is a line from Future Legend, the opening track of David Bowie's 1974 album 'Diamond Dogs'. It's all very dystopian, Burroughsian and Orwellian. In 1979, we all thought: "Wow! David Bowie predicted 'The Warriors'!" But it's 2015 now, and I'm thinking this: "Oh dear. David Bowie went and predicted London."

The capital nightscape used to strike me with awe and excitement. The view up and down the river from Tower Bridge, with riverside lights twinkling and cars and people rushing up and down its banks, was always a beautiful and inspiring one. The balance of old architecture and new buildings, even as recently as ten years ago, was pretty much acceptable. Heritage and culture seemed assured and ingrained in London's fabric, as did the notion of growth and wide-open possibilities. There was a sort of mutual respect between the old town and the new.

Just look at it now. Nowhere on or near Tower Bridge can you look downriver without being assaulted by the monstrous vision of the Walkie Talkie building. A ghastly carbuncle which burns pavements, blots horizons and serves no great purpose. (Have you been to its rooftop garden? Of course you haven't.) That's all you see behind the drawbridge, now. It's horrible.

Then there's the cheese grater. The gherkin. The Shard. OK, I guess I can live with The Shard. But taken as a gang, these gargantuan buildings are clearly not a good thing. Either London wants to look like a Martian colony under a giant dome, as visualised in '60s sci-fi, or it wants to look like London, complete with the Monument and St Paul's and Big bastard Ben. The mix of the two - just like those arty photographs of the moon poking out between skyscrapers - doesn't work. Again, it's horrible.

And, of course, there's more of this wanton destruction to come. An unwanted underground railway called Crossrail appears to be giving developers carte blanche to take a wrecking ball to any old landmark that gets in the way of something sterile, new and under-occupied. There's money, it seems, in stark and empty new property. Not in Victorian factories and tanning yards.

Soho? Denmark Street? Who needs them? Why keep the late Ken Colyer's smokey jazz clubs alive when you can just as quickly level them and build a block of posh flats in their place? You could name it The Colyer Mews (or something). You could stick a plaque up. That would be nice. No need to keep history - get rid of it, stick a plaque on the new thing. Shall we talk about Battersea Power Station? Let's not. It makes me too angry and sad.

So, you see. London's heritage, history and culture is being erased for the short-sighted financial gain of the greedy few. Private rents and house prices today are actually, certifiably, obscene. Those people who are happy to live on rice if it means they get to paint a picture or write a book or make a record can't afford to do even that any more. So off they go, the artists, out to the sticks. It's all part of London's rapid sterilisation.

I love London, so all of this hurts. And however hard I try to get on with my life and let other people get on with theirs, and just hope for the best for the future, I just can't. And do you know why?

It's those red mutant eyes that gaze down on Hunger City. It's the red lights of the cranes at night, dotted up and down the river, zig-zagging the once bustling and exciting West End, scattering through the South London suburbs and beyond. Blood red lights which are supposed to stop helicopters from smashing into them (something they're not entirely successful at) and which denote major construction going on underneath. London is plastered with the things. They're demonic, like a glowing red pox pointing towards a disease that is spreading fast and becoming terminal.

London is not in safe hands. And for that reason. I'm out.

No comments:

Post a Comment