Immigrant

It’s a four-hour drive (1.5 usually) into London on Monday morning, the M25 a slow-moving worm – how do people do this every day? – so Julian and I are late (and stiff) for our own dissection course.  Down in the bowels of a those institutional National Health hospitals – but the course is great, with four ‘soft-fixed’ legs to work with, a friendly if skeptical doctor, and the students are delighted to experience ‘fascia!’  Julian and I bat the ping-pong ball of questions back and forth to each other.  He is a madman with a passion and a wicked mimic and piss-taker with a relaxed insouciance that leaves no doubt where he stands – an outsider.

Back in London, it feels grim – grimmer and harder than ever before.   Even the rain, which creates such a lovely soundscape among the walls and trees of this city, is not enough to dull the raspy edge to its voice.  London, always cosmopolitan, has shouldered three huge immigrations from the east.  The first from the sub-continent – Indians and Pakistanis.  The Indians were predominantly Hindus, of course, and the so-called ‘Paki’s’ were Moslem.  But both these groups were former colonies, part of the British Raj, and however much the home-grown Brits might have complained at the time, these holders of British passports loved English culture and endeavoured to fit right in – and ultimately did.  More recently came the Arabs in large numbers – an immigration of a people who don’t like England.  They are nevertheless being absorbed and everyone is slowly learning tolerance, though the bombings last year did not help that process; nor has England’s participation in the Iraq War..

But now the Arabs are being superseded by a new immigration, this one from an even nearer east – the former communist bloc.  The coffee shops are stocked with girls with the round accents, hardened souls, wide-set eyes and shoulders, and enigmatic smiles of Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Belarus.  My friend in the sex industry says it’s been overrun by these girls who, some for fun and some in slavery, will do anything for a few pounds.

These immigrants do not dislike London, they simply don’t care.  You can see these young Russian men on the streets – hungry, watchful, as menacing and cowardly as packs of dogs.  Will they be assimilated?  Am I displaying the prejudice that slows such a process, just nostalgic for an earlier, simpler time – one that was not so simple anyway?  Maybe – nevertheless, I want my old soft city back, but London is pretty large in all senses, so perhaps – as I wrote of Tokyo earlier – it can absorb everything, and need concede nothing. But meantime it feels hard.

I leave my phone in the cab, and spend an evening tracking it down and getting it back.  Slippage – I am getting tired with the relentless days of teaching, lonely hotels, rain, questionable food.

While I am here, Tony Blair is in the process of resigning, and Gordon Brown has been (finally) given the green light to ascend.  Labour or not, the government is out of touch with its people – increased surveillance, increased taxes, decreased services – and it’s incredibly expensive in London – for me, of course, at $2 to the £, but also for Londoners, squeezed by VAT and other taxes – but the English, they muddle through.

On the last free morning, I find I am a tourist in my old home.  I left almost 20 years ago – most friends I might pop in on would require advance notice, a gift, and something to say.  I am a stranger, unable to cop a good accent any more, and with nowhere quiet and secret to go.  So I will make a virtue of a necessity and do touristy things I never did while living here.

On the southern Embankment of the Thames, I search out the New Globe – the copy of Shakespeare’s original – and look for the ironmongered flowers that my nephew Eben contributed to the gates.  The tide is running strong under the graceful bridges that lead to the baroque Houses of Parliament, to the broad dome of St Paul’s, to the new office tower called the Big Gherkin (Pickle) – it looks just like one.

The Eye is a total tourist attraction, a big Ferris wheel with gondolas instead of seats.  It moves slowly, gradually revealing the bird’s eye view of London – so slowly it loses dramatic impact – this is a trip best made with friends, not alone.  My gondola mates are all fellow tourists who make predictable noises like herd animals. Though to look down on so great a city from the peak of the wheel is still an unforgettable view, since the planes never fly in over the town any more.

Down from these heights into the Tube – more grimness, though the quality of busking musicians is much better than I remember, judging by the snatches of blues and jazz I hear as I schlep my suitcase through the gritty resounding corridors from one platform to the next.  Don’t take a suitcase onto London trains – no elevators, no ramps, and gushes of people flowing around your slow progress.

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One Response to “Immigrant”

  1. Jakob Says:

    This is exactly what I expected to find out after reading the title Immigrant. Thanks for informative article

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