Flashback – When G G Novack declared war on the United Kingdom.
Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984
The bus trip from Paris to London is an amusing affair, the cockney driver providing light-hearted commentary while lush French farmland and less attractive wind turbines flash by. Mid-journey he changes tone to warn of a potential 5 hour delay at the Chunnel due to rough seas, abandoned ferries and impassable bottlenecks, much to the chagrin of my fellow passengers. These impediments never materialise or are miraculously overcome, and no time is lost whatsoever. The bus squeezes into a steel train carriage and sets off under the English Channel.
A Sean Connery lookalike sternly grills me at the border, probing for holes in the story – ‘where are you staying, for how long, what are your plans while in the UK, what is your profession’ and so on. I bluff my way through, while 2 fellow coach-mates do not. They glumly gather luggage from the coach and disappear into the ether. Good luck.
The UK shore greets with cold and miserable weather. We stop for refreshments. On offer – fish and chips and English breakfasts served by pale teenagers with bad acne and crooked teeth. Are we descending into dreaded cliché?
14 anti-Brexit protesters brave London squalls with limp Euro flags and blue face paint streaming down their faces, pledging their allegiance to Brussels and warning of the dangers of democratic elections and the unchecked will of the people.
To say the capital of the commonwealth is Orwellian would be to sell it short. It contains no less than 500,000 CCTV cameras, posted at a density infinitely higher than any other comparable city. Every public space is cursed with a voice-over, all annoyingly polite and politically correct. While travelling the tube Big Brother helpfully reminds commuters to remain hydrated during the current spate of hot weather while the mercury is showing 13 degrees Celsius at 3:00 in the afternoon. The first trip costs 5 pounds to travel a mere 5 stations, this blatant larceny higher than normal because I don’t own an Oyster card.
The elevator gently informs us to stand well clear of the closing doors, and to mind the gap, twice, before performing its service. While trying to establish my bearings a large blonde woman courteously requests that I move aside so she may pass and informs that I am blocking the station while I am obviously a confused tourist, and impeding nobody, and London already feels like a hellish dystopian nightmare.
In homage to its other great writer London is also positively Dickensian – grubby, beset with piles of trash, and home to a multitude of rough sleepers shivering through the unseasonal cold snap. No chimney sweeps are seen, but Bill Sykes is spotted peddling drugs near the ill-named Piccadilly Circus.
Prices in London are uniformly exorbitant. Already excessive café bills include a 12.50% Optional Service Fee that is entirely mandatory. This theft also appears at the bottom of the receipt as a Discretionary Service Charge. They are murdering their language with jargon and double speak right before my eyes. War is peace. Love is hate. Optional is now mandatory. Menus also “kindly decline any substitutions,” whatever that may mean.
While European mainlanders walk and drive on the right, Londoners cross hopelessly back and forth in a state of confusion, politely apologising for their inability to chart a steady course.
I’m at a loss. What do the English do well? In what activities do they excel? There must be something. Exploitation, a trait sewn into their very DNA – dating back to the old empire days of rule Britannia, the heady days of raid and plunder of gold, glory, and god? All menial London work is seemingly performed by hardy Poles and Romanians, the locals too proud to wield a hammer or a broom. Are these foreign workers being exploited? Probably.
Selective English retailers are world-class – Selfridges is a wonder to behold, and easily the most impressive such consumer playground witnessed Europe-wide. Very few of the brands are actually British in origin though, so the local contribution is to rent an impressive building so that foreigners might sell their overpriced wares.
Publishing – the Harry Potter juggernaut?
Banking and finance – rigging LIBOR rates and the like?
Nothing else springs to mind.
It slowly emerges that the English now excel only in the unnecessary. They have made an art form out of the gratuitous. Unnecessary explanations abound. Unnecessary politeness irritates like a rash. Unnecessary recorded messages relentlessly assail – the following train is 3 minutes late for the following 9 reasons. Who cares? Shut up and let people get on with their lives.
The city appears poorly policed and governed. The place is tearing itself apart, as evidenced by run-away knife crime statistics, half a million intrusive CCTV cameras failing as a deterrent. London, dear reader, has lost its way. It ranks a close second to Naples for inefficient waste removal, colour-coded bags of trash are everywhere, blocking streets and lanes, getting kicked by passing feet and spilling their rancid contents. This is the most expensive city in Europe, and for what, the inclement weather, the stodgy food, the annoying voice-overs, the drab unimpressive architecture, the ubiquitous presence of Big Brother, the opportunity to be stabbed by disgruntled teenager gangstas?
London’s, once the centre of a vast trading empire has collapsed to be nothing more than a dreary collection of buildings, ugly in almost every regard. This is a tragedy of, dare I say, Shakespearean proportions.
Do not visit London under any circumstances.
If the British Tourism Board is reading and is wounded by my dire appraisal, I dare you to change my mind with an all-expenses-paid promotional tour of your little islands. My standards are high. I will be expecting Rolls Royce treatment. Speak with my boss to arrange travel dates and proposed inducements.
The British monarchy, once a proud beacon of exploitation, an outdated inbred institution of monumental and unnecessary waste, has now been shown to have alleged paedophiles in its ranks. This is of no surprise, and hopefully further hastens their removal and demotion, once the criminal members are safely housed in the Tower of London.
G. G. Novack – Travel and Political Correspondent at Large