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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > September 2016 > A London bubble

A London bubble

Does it matter that England no longer resembles its capital city?

It’s a long story. It starts with the Romans who everyone knows never did anything for anyone, except in capitals. LONDON. It starts with me, growing up in W8, riding my bike around the block. Grey paving stones. I used to take the Number 10 bus to school and it cost 8p for a child’s fare. The conductor turned his ticket machine with a hand crank so that the gears whirred and printed purple numbers on a ticket slip. The numbers did not correspond to any date, time or route. I used to add them up and take them away from each other to practise my maths.

I had a best friend at school, but no community. I was a bit lonely. Kensington was never a neighbourly neighbourhood. I graduated from university in 1992 in the middle of a recession and there were no jobs so I left for New York. I returned in 1996 and on arrival immediately fell into a depression. I emigrated from west London to north, Highbury N5, and had to find a whole new set of friends and buy trousers and trainers. Arsenal won the Premier League and FA Cup double in 1998, but London was boring after New York, too spread out to gather friends spontaneously, numbing Piccadilly Line commutes, nowhere to get a drink after an evening movie. I left again after two years and didn’t really come back. Tbilisi, Tehran, Baghdad, Beirut, Paris, Cairo, Jerusalem, Boston, Paris. People would say to me: aren’t you frightened in those scary places and I would reply: “there is nowhere in the world more terrifying than getting out of Ladbroke Grove tube at 11 o’clock at night and walking under the Westway flyover among the clots of milling young men jabbing each other and drinking from cans and then having to walk home down one of those dark residential streets with rapistfriendly garden hedges on either side.”

I did not like London.

My dad was in hospital this year and during his convalescence this spring, I found myself spending longer in London than I had in many years. The referendum was in the air. I lived in Paris at the time and complacently soothed my French friends’ anxiety that Britain would leave the European Union. I told them: “don’t worry, it’ll be like Scotland, people will vote for the devil they know, for stability over uncertainty. It’s just Tory party infighting.” In London I took a straw poll among my friends. Mostly they were, like me, for “Remain,” a few were “Leave.” It was interesting that I couldn’t have guessed which was which. The American oil-trading Trump supporter was a remainer, the Danish-Jewish-British banker married to a Turk wanted Britain to leave.

One Sunday afternoon, apropos of nothing in particular, I took the tube to North Greenwich to see the O2 because I realised I had never seen it before. It’s huge! And there’s a cable car across the river! A great crowd of families was enjoying the day out at a food fair, picnicking on grass verges and walking up the roof of the Dome on a viewing staircase.

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In Prospect’s September issue: Paul Johnson argues that there is no getting away from the fact our economic prospects have got worse post-Brexit. Paul Wallace attempts to outline how the government will try and deal with that situation, while Nicolas Véron suggests that The City of London will decline outside the European Union. On a brighter note, Clive James explores what we can learn from the television show Mad Men. Also in this issue: Patience Wheatcroft, the Conservative peer, suggests that Brexit might not be a done deal with a rebellion in the Lords possible. Thomas Chatterton Williams explores the work and Beyoncé and argues that black artists are failing to say anything profound and James Dyson outlines how he would rule the world.
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