Following yesterday’s post ‘Regional Prejudices’, I thought it might be informative to write a little more about London.

(Enlarge by clicking on the map)

As you can see from the map, it is divided into many districts, and separated by the River Thames. From the northern boundary, to the southernmost point, is a distance of 25 miles. That is even larger from east to west, over 30 miles. On the map, you will see a borough immediately south of the river, marked as Southwark. That is where I was born and brought up, though back then it was even more divided, into smaller boroughs like Rotherhithe, Bermondsey, and Camberwell.

Although not as populous as many of the word’s capital cities, it has a population of 8.8 million, as of November 2018. And that population has become very ethnically diverse since my youth. This map shows the main distribution of residents with non-British heritage.

This diversity has provided my old home town with everything from popular restaurants, street entertainment and parades, to new places of worship and a better understanding of cultures from around the world. It has also changed some districts completely, especially in parts of west London, like Hounslow, which have a real Indian/South Asian feel to them now.

Right in the centre, is The City of London. This is not to be confused with other parts of London, as it is actually a self-governing district known as ‘The Square Mile’. It is home to the Financial District, and some of London’s oldest buildings, including St Paul’s Cathedral. But in many respects, it has little to do with the rest of London. It has its own police force, separate from The Metropolitan Police, it also has its own crest, which can be seen on the street signs there, and even its own flag. Any tourist could be forgiven for not noticing the difference, but it is there, I assure you.

Many of the districts have a distinct identity, and feel like ‘villages’. Head west along the river, and the areas of Barnes, Chiswick, and Richmond begin to open out, with boating on The Thames, people living on small islands or in houseboats, and riverside cafes and hotels. Despite being close to the centre, they feel like a different part of England. Head east, along the traffic clogged roads that lead to Essex, and the scene is very different, with high-intensity living, street markets, and London’s clothing district. Much of that area has not changed since the streets were stalked by Jack The Ripper, though he would not recognise the office buildings and tower blocks there now.

When you live in London, you only really ever live in part of it. It is just too big to get an overview, unless you have reason to travel to the boundaries. I knew many people who had lived most of their life there, but had rarely if ever travelled north of The Thames. (Or south of it) It is also home to many British people from other parts of the UK, as well as an estimated one million people of Irish origin. ‘Original Londoners’ are hard to find there now, especially close to the centre.

We have a song too. One that always brings a lump to my throat. If I have too much to drink, you might even hear me singing it.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I love London so
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I think of her wherever I go
I get a funny feeling inside of me
Just walking up and down
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I love London town
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I love London so
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I think of her wherever I go
I get a funny feeling inside of me
Just walking up or down
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I love London town

This is how you sing it.
“All together now!”

Regional prejudices

A short trip down memory lane last night had me thinking about just how different the various regions of this country can be. And you don’t have to travel very far to discover that.

Over the years, I have been to almost every corner of The British Isles, and have certainly visited every one of the main cities. Outside of tourist-orientated holiday spots where everyone is falsely welcomed, the look and feel of different parts of the UK was very noticeable, at one time. Then there are the accents of course. We have great variety of those, but I have written about that previously.

During the 1970s, I had to travel around for my job. I was excited by this prospect, as it would take me to places I had only ever heard about, or seen on TV. It never really occurred to me that it would be that different. After all, I was a Londoner. I came from a city that was the melting pot of Britain, and had almost as many non-Londoners living in it, as genuine ‘locals’. I departed on my travels armed with twenty-one years of my own regional prejudices. The North was grimy and industrial. The West Country was all about farming, and people who spoke like they had never been outside their village. Liverpudlians were edgy and aggressive, and the Welsh hated everyone who wasn’t Welsh. As for East Anglia, (where I live now of course) it was just a flat land full of people who sounded like idiots, and never ventured anywhere.

I didn’t care. I was from London. The best city in the world, and the shining star of Britain, undoubtedly. I was lucky indeed, to be a cockney.

As you might imagine, I got a shock.

People outside London didn’t seem to like us Londoners. They mimicked my accent, (badly) and were often outwardly hostile. I was less than 100 miles north, and already hearing the oft-repeated insult, ‘Soft Southerner’. Hadn’t these people ever heard how hard the streets of London could be to live on? The gangs, the crime, the crowds. Soft? Me? Once I got a lot further up, I became an oddity to be giggled at. Girls in a Newcastle club asked me to say sentences in my harsh London accent, and fell about laughing when I did. They would seek out a friend, bring her to where I was standing, and ask “Say that again, Pet”. (That’s not a typo of my name, they call everyone ‘Pet’.) These people had (still have) a language that was a ‘version’ of English. Their local dialect and sayings required the assistance of a translator, and they had the audacity to laugh at me?

I headed west, to the cities of Liverpool and Manchester. At the time, before much recent regeneration, those cities were bleak and industrial indeed. Young men swaggered around on the streets, and glared aggressively at me in bars or clubs. I wasn’t even talking, they just seemed to know that I was ‘different’ before I spoke. On the way home from a long trip, I had to go to Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, which at the time was a coal-mining town. This was the ‘grimy and bleak’ I had imagined. Arriving in the rain, I stared at the sour-faced people, their faces devoid of joy or hope. I was only 141 miles away from London, yet felt I was in another country, at another period in history.

I was never so relieved to get home to what I saw as ‘normality’.

I had to travel again, many times. But I was forewarned, so forearmed, and I was a lot more careful about where I spent my free time. By 1979, I was no longer having to travel around other than for holidays, and as the old saying goes, I took my eye off the ball. In the late 1980s, I went to visit the parents of my then girlfriend. They lived in Yorkshire, a place I had mostly managed to avoid, short of the city of Leeds, and the coastal town of Scarborough. I had been there working with local men, who took me under their wing. This time, I was closer to the city of York, with a girlfriend who was originally from Northern Ireland, but had lived long enough in the county to sound local.

We went out to a pub in the town of Tadcaster, to meet some of her school-friends. I walked up to the bar to order some drinks, and as I said what we wanted, the barman turned and served someone else. When he had finished, I waved to him, and he came back. As I started to speak again, he smiled at me, and walked around to a different section of the bar. I was pretty angry by now, but aware that I was one Londoner in the equivalent of a one-horse town in bandit country. I walked back to the table, and explained to my girlfriend that he wouldn’t serve me. She went up to the bar, and spoke harshly to him. She was very feisty, and he was hardly prepared for her tirade. He served her the drinks, denying he had refused to serve me. He claimed he hadn’t noticed me waiting. We finished the drink, and decided to leave. There had to be a better pub than this, surely?

As we walked to the door, the barman said quite loudly, “F*****g Cockneys”.

For the last seven years, I have been living in the region that I had once written off as being flat, and full of idiots. There is less prejudice against me being a Londoner, but mainly because they are not really sure if I am. I have been asked where I come from more times than I can remember, and quite a few people have suggested that I might be Australian! It’s all very strange, even after such a long time. But there’s one thing I can be certain of.

I’m glad I didn’t move to Tadcaster.

Retro Tech

I saw a post on Kim’s blog, about two young men trying (and failing) to work out how to use a rotary-dial phone. It’s an amusing video, but I found it quite worrying too. Here’s a link.

Are you old enough to remember when the only TV you could watch was what was on at the time? Were you born (as I was) a very long time before the Internet? Can you remember VHS TV recorders with cable-connected remote controls? Phone boxes (booths) that needed the right change to make a call, and life before credit cards?

Some younger people no longer know how to tell the time on an analogue watch or clock. The video in the link shows that some cannot even work out how to use the type of phone that others still have in their homes. They have never written nor posted a letter, bought a stamp, or signed a cheque. I’m sure a lot of them don’t even know what a cheque book is. They have grown up in a world of fingertip convenience, with the answers to everything provided by the screen of their mobile phone, or a shout to ‘Alexa’. They can watch anything they want, when they want, on any platform that they choose. Their social interaction is primarily electronic, rarely even bothering to actually speak on the phones they all own.

It won’t be long before a generation exists that has never entered a shop. Online deliveries of everything, even food, mean that they don’t ever have to leave home, to buy anything they might need. You can even buy a car online, and have it delivered to your house. Virtual reality may one day remove the need to even travel abroad, as they experience any place in the world whilst lying on their bed, wearing a headset.

It’s a wonderful future, apparently. A brave new world of electronic convenience.

But what happens if and when it all stops? Solar flares, natural disasters, diminished resources, or ‘operator error’. So many things can potentially unravel the reliance on electronic aids and lifestyles. I wonder how they will cope in a future that I am fairly content to not be around to see?

Watch the video, and you will find out.

Merry Christmas

As many of you won’t be around after today, I would like to off my seasonal greetings to all my followers and readers.
Whether or not you celebrate the day, I hope you have a peaceful 25th.

My very best wishes to everyone in this blogging community.

Ten Things I really Like

In the absence of a fictional muse at the moment, and slightly confused by feeling unwell and taking lots of medicine, I started to think about things I really like. I suspect this happened in my mind to offset the doldrums of thinking about being ill. Whatever the reason, it cheered me up. So here is a rare ‘top ten’ from me, and a very personal one at that. It is not in any order of preference.

1) Red Wine.
I like it a lot, and will drink any red-coloured wine, even Cabernet Sauvignon. My favourites are Pinotage, Chianti, Burgundy, and Shiraz. I also enjoy Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, Dao, and Rioja.

2) More red wine.
As above, but more.

3) Watching good films again.
I love to re-watch a film I enjoyed, and realise why I loved it so much in the first place. Some random examples of this would include ‘The Duellists’, ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Donnie Brasco’, ‘The Hunger’ (1983), ‘Zulu’, and of course ‘Blade Runner’.

4) Eating Out.
I don’t mind cooking. I cook most of our meals, and I am happy to do so. Some of them amount to little more that ‘hotting up’ something bought already prepared, and adding a few vegetables. But I do cook some things from scratch, and when I am in the mood, I serve a very good roast potato, if I say so myself. Despite that, eating out in a restaurant is something I have always enjoyed. It doesn’t have to be a fancy, or expensive place. As long as the atmosphere is convivial, and the food is cooked and served by someone else, I am usually very happy indeed.

5) Watching foreign films with subtitles.
Most of you already know that I rate foreign films highly. In most cases, I enjoy them more than films in my own language. There are various reasons for this, but I would say that the dominant one is that it is good to not know who the actors are. This stops any preconceptions based on previous roles, or earlier bad performances. An imaginary example of this might be an actor like Bruce Willis appearing in a 19th century epic costume drama. Given his reputation, I would already be thinking ‘This is not going to work’. However, put the Danish equivalent of Bruce into a similar historical epic, and I am none the wiser.

6) Listening to sentimental old songs.
This has got worse as I get older. I love nothing more than to hear a really old song, and wallow around in the sentiment of it. I’m not talking the 1960s or 1980s here. The songs that really get to me are much older than those. You might never even have heard of most of them, but when you get to my age, look them up, and feel your eyes moisten. ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’, ‘Pennies From Heaven’, ‘The Very Thought Of You’, ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’, ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’. And many more…

7) Wandering about with Ollie.
Having such a good companion as my dog Ollie means that I have to go out. And when we are out walking, even on the most familiar routes, I relish the fresh air, and contact with nature. But even more than that, I welcome the chance to think. Out on those walks, I think about a lot of good stuff, including most of what I write about on this blog. If not for Ollie, I would probably be watching 24-hour rolling news, and writing nothing at all.

8) Memories.
No surprise of course, but I do love my memories. The best thing about them is that I still remember them, good or bad. When I stop writing about memories, you will all know something is badly wrong with me.

9) Solitude.
I have mentioned this before, but I get a lot of pleasure from time spent alone. I am aware that this is a choice, and if it was not a choice, it might not be so enjoyable. But solitude is something that can be studied. It can be developed, almost like a trade or a skill. Once you have mastered the basics, it is really very good indeed.

10) Blogging.
This had to be included, didn’t it? Since starting out, somewhat reluctantly, in 2012, blogging has become my ‘other life’. What I do with certain hours of the day, how I keep in touch with so many people, maintaining an active mind, and developing friendships in that great community. It wouldn’t have been a list of things I really like, without blogging being featured.

There you have it. Feel free to dislike any of the things I really like. I won’t mind.

And if you want to add your own ten, or even just a few, please leave a comment.

Joy, and Sadness

Violet Rose. 6lbs 1oz.

It has been a good few years since we had a new baby in my maternal family. I was delighted to go and visit the latest arrival, Violet, last weekend. She was delivered by C-section, and I am pleased to report that Mum and baby are both doing really well.

The added joy of seeing the new baby was that she is named after my mother, Violet, and also my grandmother, Rose. As I have never had children, it made me feel very happy to know that my own mother’s name will live on in this new addition to our family, and I know that my Mum would have been touched beyond belief.

Then this morning, along came the sadness. Violet’s great-grandfather, and my last surviving uncle, passed away after a long illness, at the age of 87. He never got a chance to see Violet before he died, but at least he heard about her being born, and had seen a photo.

R.I.P. Ivan Cowburn.

The circle of life continues.