It was late on Saturday night when I threw my bags into the car and sped off towards the motorway. I had to get away. I was glad the week was over…. I was fed up and today had been the final catalyst.
Not as dramatic as it sounds. It was just a boiling hot week in London with tube problems (getting off and walking to the next station one day and arriving home after midnight another night), overcrowding, horrendous traffic and high pollution. I’ve been feeling nervous too – travelling around a lot I’ve been worried – it drags you down.
Saturday was the worst – local traffic was terrible, exacerbated by roadworks (no actual work being done, just lots of roads blocked off), people beeping senselessly. Tempers were flaring and cars started driving OVER roundabouts. Enough was enough; I needed out. When I got home neighbouring idiots had put washing OUTSIDE in our gardens – (not allowed – it looks disgusting!), and placed rubbish on the floor instead of in bins…. The news also brought another horrendous fatal stabbing in North London.
So, off to the coast (late to avoid traffic). Next morning I sat by the sea watching people walking along with fish and chips or ice cream and often with a dog. There was a breeze to go with the sun. A beautiful English summer. And by the seaside it really does still feel like England….
Seaside life is more traditional. The place where I was celebrates all English folk traditions; Morris Dancing, folk music, bonfires, processions and so on throughout the year. Yes, they have had problems with B&Bs renting rooms to so called ‘asylum seekers’. It looked as if B&Bs were ruined but the owners learnt their lesson and realised if you fill up your rooms this way people won’t come for holidays and it will affect the local economy.
But the area has done their bit with taking Syrian refugees though. It still feels quintessentially English. Why? Because English people are still the majority and are resolute in keeping our culture and traditions. The impetus is on incomers to integrate and fit in, which works much better and everybody is happy. The locals and the incomers just getting on with life. And so the seaside – at least the one I visited this weekend – still feels like England. Perfect!
Our coastline is quite something. It goes on forever. Being a seafaring nation, our history is full of it. The sea looked fabulous – the tide was in and it was wild and choppy – the full moon had just finished. Some yachts and a fishing boat drifted by. A brass band played further down. Families walked on the pier. People sometimes nodded and said hello. Ok, some of them were on holiday but not all, it’s a busy town too, and many had been to work, the cafes, pubs and shops were open.
It’s not all perfect. The roads are bumpy and in need of repair as are the pavements, even though council tax is high. The metal BT slabs stick out causing old people to trip. No amount of complaining helps. The locals also have to be vigilant with the council trying to sell off conservation land to developers – I guess some things are happening everywhere! But the vibe is English – British. It feels how London felt years ago. London always had what we used to call ‘cosmopolitan’ areas, where the English lived alongside people from abroad. But we were proud of that and it all added to the interest and choices we had. Plus we were still vastly in the majority.
What touched me most was a small memorial garden to remember all the local citizens (not soldiers) who had been killed by Germans dropping bombs on our coastline in the Second World War. There were benches and a stone ruin of what used to be a station for soldiers to protect us first from Napoleon (not needed) and then to protect our coastline in war. The list of names was long and some people had left ribbons to remember their relatives. A band had played too. It was nice that they remembered those who hadn’t gone to fight but had stayed to carry on working and face nightly bombing.
On the drive back, through the villages and a forest, navigating the badly-lit ‘cats eyes’ roads, I looked out for deer and eventually saw one chomping through the grass. I thought reticently about home. What was summer going to bring in London? Well, if Sadiq Khan has his way a huge protest against Donald Trump! How ridiculous for a Mayor to support this! Apart from the fact we need the trade, what about all the mayhem and risk of fighting and the disruption to roads and traffic?! (And maybe rioting?)
There are now moped muggers posing as police, increasing street crime which has reached crisis levels in a suburb of NW London, increased knife, gun and other violent street crime, high terror risk, gang members as young as 10 and young boys of 11 being arrested for murder, acid throwing incidents becoming common. Building going on everywhere but still a housing crisis and the highest homeless population in the UK. Add constant public transport disruption and I’m beginning to wonder why anyone wants to come to London.
The August bank holiday will bring the carnival. No thanks – more and more police are needed but the stabbing and crime just goes up and up anyway. London needs more police – but no, we are getting fewer and police stations are closing constantly.
I still love London – it’s my city and it owns a huge chunk of my heart. But I have to wonder, how did we get here and why did we let it happen? Do we hate ourselves that much? No, I’m not looking forward to summer in the city – I want an English summer and sadly you won’t find it in London any longer.