It was strange being back in London for a visit (after spending months thoroughly settling into Cape Town) – all so familiar and yet also seeing it afresh, as if from an outsider’s perspective.
I found myself amused, irritated and secretly unacceptably judgemental of strangers I came across, on public transport, walking the streets and in cafés… people walking down the street, a wide load of shopping bags, rushing, focused… people discussing their latest skiing or sailing trip… ‘Made in Chelsea’ wannabes, analysing outfits at great length, “Did you SEE what she was wearing?!”… people so conscious about what they look like, yet sometimes looking (in my humble opinion) a little ridiculous, presumably because some magazine said it’s ‘in’, often looking less attractive than those who are less attentive to (or slave to) the trends. Starbucks in Parson’s Green packed with ‘yummy mummys’ eyeing up each other’s designer baby buggies…. suited men striding confidently through the streets near Oxford Circus, looking self satisfied, discussing when’s the best time to sell their house… and yet in the same street, another suited gentleman in a café sitting on his own, staring blankly straight ahead, looking dejected, sad, hopeless, aimless.
I like to strike up conversations with people on the underground, but it’s easier with foreigners, Londoners often look at you as if you are mad. London is so full of people, so busy and yet it seems for many it is a lonely place, lacking in real connection.
People buying pointless things, things created simply for people to buy as presents for people with everything they need: silver balls with clips on top to put name places on for dinner parties, wicker baskets shaped to fit on stairs and hold magazines…. whilst other people in the same city, in the same street, are facing redundancy with little prospect of a new job. Almost everyone I spoke to who is in business or local government said that jobs are being cut. And yet consumption continues, Oxford Circus is teeming with people, restaurants are packed… and debt rises. According to Credit Action, in the UK, 1,907 people were made redundant every day between December 2011 and February 2012, outstanding total personal debt stood at £1.458 trillion in March 2012, nearly as much as the entire country produced during the year of 2011. 314 people are declared insolvent or bankrupt every day and 93 properties are repossessed every day.
Racks and racks of magazines shout about the love, lust, betrayal and break-ups of D list celebs, whose lives people are so absorbed with, more familiar with than their own family who they may rarely see or their neighbours who they may have never met. Desperate for ‘reality’ stories or TV shows – someone else’s reality but not facing their own.
Young people’s worlds seem to be shrinking, knowing every detail about what their friends and acquaintances are doing – Facebook, Twitter, Mxit – but nothing about world current affairs and news. I can certainly put my hand up to that to some extent too!
Although London has many good things – parties, dancing, transport, parks, culture, family and friends that I love dearly – I don’t feel as comfortable and at home there as I used to.
Some of the very things I dislike about London are the exact things I found myself falling into whilst there. The consumerism and greed is so infectious, buying, eating, drinking, buying more. So quickly I start thinking ‘maybe I need to buy…’ shoes… clothes… cosmetics… of course I don’t need it at all, but the definition of ‘need’ seems malleable, changeable to mean what you want it to mean… ‘I could use’ or ‘it’d be nice to have’.
How quick I am to pick up old habits, still too keen to please others and find significance and security in people and what I own, succumbing to the perceived pressure to be and look a certain way.
I get swept up into the old speed of life, rushing from one thing to the next, packing the days full to bursting and yet not prioritising time for what really matters: tending towards busyness and superficiality, rather than real depth and connection. My time and mind becomes so full that there is no space for reflection, for knowing yourself, your own heart and emotions and for sharing them with others and with God.
Seeing your own culture with fresh eyes is sometimes painful because it exposes in your own heart how much you have absorbed, even the parts you dislike.