London Rambling, Part 1

I’m spending this week in London with my English Advanced Course and thought I could sort of ‘live-blog’ my impressions here. I’ve been to London before, but never as extensively as now and while have liked the city before, this time I really get into it and get a feel for what it is. Aside from various observations, I’m also interested in reflecting upon big cities like London in general, as they are normally the symbol for our culture of civilization as signs of progress and growth, but also symbolic for the problems this culture is facing.

It is hard not to be fascinated by a city like London (or any other really large city) if you don’t live there. The sheer scale of things, the buildings, the streets, the traffic, the noises, the people, it is at first both overwhelming and intriguing. Cities offer so much to see and hear and smell. It’s seductive and alluring, the promise of more and more. But it is also exhausting, getting along, getting through, no matter which way you travel. Walking is tiresome after a while, the underground gives you the impression of being fast but actually takes a while, too, especially with all the stairs up and down. Especially there it is the people that are both why people love and hate cities. Talking about the anonymity of cities is such a cliché but being here makes it so obvious again how strange this is. Nothing makes it clearer how our culture consists of strangers (instead of our original culture of tribalism where no one is a stranger). You live and move among hundred thousands, millions of people you don’t know, but still have to get along with in minor ways all the time. Hundreds of opportunities each day of pissing people off by being too slow or snatching away seats or bumping into each other. Hundreds of opportunities to be friendly or helpful or attracted. Maybe that is stupid, but just the math of all of these little social interactions is exhausting for our brains. No wonder people avoid looking at each other, eyes down or on their phones or behind newspapers. And not surprising that this breeds the habit of looking away, of not helping of being ignorant.

Oh, Shaky, how right you are.

Oh, Shaky, how right you are.

The other thing that struck me this time again (as always when I’m in bigger cities), is the immensity of advertising, the constant presence of brands everywhere, the incentive to buy and shop and consume. Again, this is like the most obvious thing ever, but it’s one of those things everyone is aware of and still indulges in it nonetheless. My students couldn’t wait to get into stores or to get food.  And the advertising is everywhere and big and aggressive. How did we get there? How did we allow this? How did we start accepting ads to tell us how to live our lives? (I can’t help but think of Mad Men for some answers). Some of the slogans made me really angry, like this one:

This style of advertising style has become so common, the pretense of brands being friends, advisors, coaches. What the fuck do they know about my life and what I should do? And what the fuck does this have to do with selling clothes manufactured under inhumane conditions and selling it cheaply? (more on that in a future post) Supporting that is scary. Getting rich with that without a conscience is scary.

I’m sitting in the hostel’s lounge and I look out of the window, at the back of buildings and two beautiful, half-naked, young people are staring at me through a plant trying to convince me I need to buy something from Gap. It bothers me more than I can explain. It reminds me more than ever why I’m doing all of my writing here and my teaching at school. We have to talk about this and not buy into it as if it’s just a guilty pleasure that isn’t actually harmful.

Well, that’s all I have after my first day in London. It might not sound like it but I find this trip already very enjoyable and inspiring, so expect more in the coming days.

There are too many of us
In tiny houses here and there
Passing out somewhere
But you won’t care

Blur - There Are Too Many Of Us (2015)