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Agenda | Perspective

What It Means To Be A Londoner

I’m so London I am a mongrel: Jewish; half posh, half common; half English, half foreign. I’ve written books on the capital, earned a BA here, broken laws, bones and even marriages in this city. I’m so London that my antecedents lived in Leicester Square when it was still a slum and my great great great grandfather shot himself in the head in his pawnbrokers on Goodge Street. I grew up serving the denizens of Vogue House and Max Clifford’s roster of artists in my father’s restaurants off Regent Street and Bond Street in my school holidays. And one of my earliest memories is speeding down Oxford Street in the dead of night in the back of a Ferrari as my mother, drowning in fur and jewels, cackled as the music impresario-cum-lothario in the driver’s seat turned to me and said, “Would you mind terribly if I married your mother?” Which is why I don’t really care about B**xit, or gentrification, or immigration or annihilation or obliteration for that matter.

Show me destitution, I read you Dickens; tell me about persecution, I present to you The Tower of London. Talk to me about disasters and I introduce to you Samuel Pepys. This is a an epic where the plot line thrives on a faultline of contusions made up of conversions, perversions, invasions, war ramifications, witch trials and executions… Its characters a posturing band of braggers, blaggers and laggers all served with a healthy dose of swagger. Where the dogged surf an Underground tide of millions of screwed up souls each day. Dodging daggers made of metal or glares is part of the Londoner’s DNA. One minute we’re exchanging platitudes over vicissitudes with the trouble and strife about how Britain’s brown bread, the next we’re cooing, “how frightfully fabulous darlink!” that you snagged a table for five at Sexy Fish.

And just as everything changes, everything comes around: the monarchy, paleo, Southwark, gin. You want to know it, to understand it. You are it. Everyone has their story, everyone is the story. Asked, “Where are you from?” The Londoner shrugs: “The world.” We are all honed from birth to be captive to our own petty little Pyrrhic victories, and we’re still standing. All eight million of us.

Without the most seismic stock market crash of the twentieth century, we wouldn’t have the YBA’s, rave culture or perhaps Kate Moss. And who can forget what it was to wave their arms euphorically on the dance floor of a discotheque to Haddaway’s “What is Love”? Not me, without shuddering. After another particularly omnipotent stretch of Euroscepticism hit Britain (the late Sixteenth and early Seventeenth centuries, when the pesky war refugees emanating from Holland were subjected to punitive legislature and widespread nationalist contempt), the British quickly turned on each other via the English Civil War. That was all swept under the carpet quicker than you can sing, “Ring-a-Ring of Roses,” or, “London’s Burning,” when The Great Plague, and then the Great Fire swept in and wiped much of the capital out. So if history does indeed repeat itself, I don’t think there’s anything there to imply that B**xit will be superseded by a series of cataclysmic events that will be forever remembered as the most disastrous period in London’s legacy. To quote Disraeli: “Change is inevitable. Change is constant.” Without difference we wouldn’t have the fire for punk, Shakespearean tragedies, Hogarth or British fashion. “To improve is to change. To be perfect is to change often,” opined Churchill. Change is arguably the catalyst for London’s most seminal creativity: the ground zero of social and artistic verve. And how about we all, “Remember Remember the Fifth of November”?

For the city is an entity… a spirit, a cavernous, capitalist machine constantly chewing yesterday up and reinventing and regurgitating it out in time for tomorrow’s breakfast. It is an urban blastocyst that’s constantly regenerating, and until the day that this city gets pelted with fire and brimstone, Kate Middleton turned into a pillar of salt, (and even then I would be the last woman standing at the top of The Shard screaming, “Let Them Eat Cake!”) London will keep re-emerging, a little more jaded, a touch crazier, ever more complicated, a great deal more twisted, another tier of character layered on millennia of shock, innovation, catastrophe and death, but it will wear a new look, attitude and perspective that somehow justifies the maelstrom that made it.

You see, I know all this because I’m so London that my friends hang out with dukes, dilettantes and delinquents; I’m so London that my crowd parties in palaces and raves in squats. I’m so London that when I say “G” people ask, “Friend, dough or fix…?” I’m so London that a century ago my great-granny was heaving her juddering Edwardian breasts over the ebonies and ivories of the Old Vic’s Vaudevillian Joanna as she recited myths, legends and stories about a capital in the midst of war. As long as London keeps its characters, its artists and its narratives, everything that happens here is just another chapter in its biography. And if the shit really hits the fan? We might even get a new nursery rhyme out of this.

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