London Doesn’t Swing Anymore


When I first glimpsed London, approximately at the time of David Bowie’s emergence, it was magical. The Kings Road was lined with boutiques blasting wonderful English pop music and selling fanciful clothing of the sort wonderful English pop musicians wore with such panache on the world’s premiere stages. Kensington Church Street was home to a market in which a zillion designers offered their own fanciful creations in tiny stalls, and kids who’d devoted their lives to looking more like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, for instance, than Marilyn Monroe and James Dean had themselves ever dared, posed implacably. The male mannequins in department store windows had preposterously long eyelashes and Catherine Deneuve’s features; their suits were beautifully tailored. Thanks to the outrageous platform footwear that was so fashionable at the time, everyone was seven feel tall. No wonder everyone felt giddy.

That London no longer exists. Very little notable music comes out of it anymore, and the Kings Road is lined with posh chain stores selling boring clothing at ludicrous prices. The rampant theatricality that made the city so glorious for people-watching is long, long gone; hip hop-inspired slobbishness is now the sartorial norm. Indeed, when I think of 21st century London, in two of whose corners I have resided for six of the past 10 years, the words that come to mind are expensive, overcrowded, ugly, dreary, expensive, and expensive. Living in London is sort of like living at an airport, in the sense that everything is approximately twice the price you’d expect to pay in the real world.

The public transport(ation) system is a disaster. It’s said that when European manufacturers test trains they’ve made for sale to the UK, they do so on tracks they’ve deliberately degraded to simulate UK conditions. Those who travel by Tube (that is, subway) quickly become accustomed to pre-recorded announcements expressing London Transport’s regret about your train having been delayed. And when your train finally does arrive, rest assured that it will either be clogged with irate-looking persons in hideous scuffed loafers, or deserted except for a pair or trio of feral-looking teenagers in hooded sweatshirts who will stab you if you fail to endorse the idea of their borrowing your mobile phone, iPad, or wallet on a permanent basis. London abounds with bored, frustrated, poorly educated “youf” with nothing to lose.

The British think Americans can’t do irony? Well, the Brits can’t do English grammar. On your visit to London, you are guaranteed to see billboards so egregiously punctuated as to defy divination. And don’t expect to hear any foreign place names pronounced properly; the locals’ deliberately mispronouncing Los Angeles (Los Angel-eez), for instance, or Tenerife (Tenor Reef) is their way of conveying that deep in the heart of every Englishman, The Empire endures.

On a weekend night, central London becomes the scene of wanton sluttishness on a grand scale, as it becomes clogged with young women who’ve spent six hours achieving their look of brazen cheapness tottering off the trains and buses looking to get legless on alcopops and then meet Mr. Right, who, for his own part, may have been persuaded to put on his cleanest jeans. Of course, the phenomenon isn’t unique to central London; you’ll see it as far away as Richmond, in the southwest corner of the city — and, indeed, in the outback. A year ago, I stayed overnight in a little village in Somerset after attending a pal’s wedding. When I ventured down to the local supermarket for some fruit, what to my wondering eyes should appear but doppelgangers of the brazen streetwalkers one used to see on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, in thigh-high stiletto-heeled boots, eyelashes as lavish as those on the male department store mannequins of the ’70s, and skirts a millimeter or two away from indecent exposure.

Turned out they were just the local beauties, dressed for a Saturday night down the pub.

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Comments (Showing 14 of 14)

  • nickknock1 at 12:44am March 08, 2013

    Very true, about many of the youth in the UK (and Ireland). Its really scary stuff.

  • AnitaBryant63 at 1:29am March 08, 2013

    I love this blog!

  • GRALISTAIR at 3:27am March 08, 2013

    Yes as an expat Brit educated in London – I now live in Kansas City, MO nad have for the last 13 years. It is frightening what the place has become.

  • Mofessor at 7:08am March 08, 2013

    The only thing missing is for you to start yelling, “get off my lawn you kids!” That is, if London had lawns. Maybe you could yell it from the All England Club.

  • johnnie69 at 9:24am March 08, 2013

    Not sure which London you have been living in but the one I’ve resided in for the last 14 years doesn’t resemble your description.

  • missdimeaner at 12:47pm March 08, 2013

    London is still the vibrant creative place it has always has been , it may not be buzzing on the Kings Road, which has become overpriced and stuffy.

    On the other hand areas like Shoreditch are up and coming.

    London is an ever changing city, it will continue to evolve.

  • Sharratt4 at 2:52pm March 08, 2013

    Is this an ironic joke?

    It isn’t funny, and it doesn’t reprisent London! Were you in London for the Olympics? Yes it is expensive but have you been to Paris or Zurich?

    Have you met all the tourists from Los Angel-eez asking for directions to Lie-Ses-ter square?! Are they holding on to empire?!

    What a lazy, clichéd artical.

  • grumbler at 4:23pm March 08, 2013

    The first sentence kind of says it all. Who goes to the Kings Road anymore ? And the “views” on notable music are just asinine – author must be pining for his 8 track cassette collection.

  • roberino at 4:34pm March 08, 2013

    So, you were expecting London to stay the same over the last 50 years? Riiiiiiiiiight….

    There’s more people of more nationalities with more money than there has ever been in London so the whole place has changed beyond recognition. The shops changed because people are going out of town to shopping malls like Stratford and BlueWater (thanks, America, for leading the way on that one). The soul of London is not gone though – you just have to know where to find it. It’s certainly not going to remain stagnant and unchanged just for the rare visits of a whimsical sixty-something from the US though.

  • gojko88 at 5:06pm March 08, 2013

    The description is fairly succinct, yet spot-on. I can see why Londoners would feel insulted, but they’re in denial.

  • jib71 at 10:32pm March 08, 2013

    More likely in dethames.

  • BadgerBoi at 2:35am March 09, 2013

    Never been much of a fan of London, but you are certainly wrong about music – the best music is still coming out of Britain, they are streets ahead of the US or any other Anglophone country

  • SAtransplant at 11:49am March 10, 2013

    The author knows of what he speaks. John Mendelssohn was the drummer in the original musical group Sparks line up, the one that played its homage to 1960’s London, “My White Bicycle”, at my college ball in early 1970’s Bloomsbury.

    London has become a place you only re-visit if someone else is footing the bill.

    For a long time it’s been “The London Experience”, a sort of shabby amusement park experience with “members only” attractions.

    Getting back to John : he’s witnessed extreme bursts of (musical) creativity with both the London and West Coast rock scenes, perhaps others. I know he’s searching for where it’s “happening” now. Please come back and tell us!

    Robbie Fields
    wintering in Prague

  • RichardMannion at 9:51pm March 10, 2013

    Can’t disagree with you on a certain number of points – London has changed, but the expensive bit is interesting. Some things are expensive, but others are not. We can all pick and choose what to compare. I’ve just returned from NYC, and it’s an interesting comparison on cost for me. Hotel prices in NYC make London look reasonable nowadays.

    Maybe they’ve crept up slowly, but expectations on tipping have now reached a milestone for me. Down in the meatpacking district at an okay bistro for brunch, I’m suggested to pay 20% on top of the already pricey menu as a tip? I know that I’m told that it’s culture in America, but speaking to fellow Brits that are regular visitors to the US, it is now getting silly. Is a table of two diners that spends $500 on a meal, any harder work than a table of two that spends $100? I may spend an hour or two eating dinner, but $100 tip for just my table? I’m told that wait staff are paid minimum wage that becomes zero after tax, so rely on tips. Presume no one is going to break the norm, and factor proper salaries into the prices and then suggest a discretionary tip of ~10-12.5%?

    Tying it back to the UK, yes we are not exactly great at customer service in restaurants but paying 20% (the suggested amounts included higher percentages in some places) to get okay to good service seems a little rich to me. I know I’m going to get a litany of responses about this, as my American friends who live in the UK were somewhat offended at my comments about the need to sort this out.

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