November 2011 – I breathed a sigh of relief as the long blue First Great Western Train pulled out of Paddington Station and headed west – four days in London was more than enough. My visit had been to Trailfinders to organise an Indian Visa and buy a flight to Chennai in Tamil Nadu, but of course, I took photos as well, exercising my Fuji X100 before taking it, as my companion on a two month loop from Chennai around to Cochin in Southern India.
The city seemed more than usually frenetic as I walked from Victoria where the Portsmouth train had dropped me off. I passed estate agents selling 3 bedroom flats for between 6 and £8 million and every house in lovely Montpelier Square as I walked by had a new 4×4 Porche, Mercedes, high end Rangerover, Bentley or Rolls outside. Newly purchased properties had skips outside instead and teams of workmen were emptying kitchens and bathrooms, tiles and plasterboard in an orgy of destructive pre-restoration. I mused at the cost of all this “rubbish” and of the consumer driven madness to smash good kitchens and bathrooms and send them to landfill, replacing them with similar delights a week later.
As always the London parks were a haven. I trudged across Green Park and Hyde Park to Edgware Road where I was to stay in a hostel even more depressing than the one I stayed in on my visit to San Francisco.
During the four days, the contrasts in London seemed ever more extreme, the lavish and sometimes beautiful window displays in shops like Harrods and in the Piccadilly arcades the Christmas lights and shop windows in Oxford Street and so many beggars. I visited the “Occupy” camp outside St. Paul’s Cathedral and passed a demonstration against cuts in education. Everywhere I looked I saw vans full of police waiting for the signal to wade in to the demonstators – I have never in my 63 years, seen SO MANY POLICE!! I believe that they now have permission to use batten rounds in policing demonstrations. Batten rounds have killed many demonstrators in Northern Ireland over the years. I wait with heavy heart for the first students to fall in England as they did so many years ago in America, victims of an ever more violent and intolerant policing regime backing a government who are using the excuse of economic austerity to pursue cuts to welfare and education propelled by far-right wing dogma.
As an aside and to reinforce my point, a good friend has recently been cut off from from all welfare payments and told to work. She does do voluntary work at a school when she feels strong enough, but sometimes in doing so, she has to spend the next two days in bed recovering her strength. She is on her second round of writing appeals against the decision of a nurse in her early twenties going against my friend’s consultant and GP, who have 60+ years of experience between them compared to the nurse who probably has 5. My friend has been told that if she has the strength to write an appeal, she has enough strength to work. My friend has M.S. (multiple sclerosis) – that well known lifestyle choice for the work-shy.
There are some small glimmers of hope. The Church of England has refused to be the cause of violent termination of the camp on the doorstep of the cathedral by going down the path of legal action and police eviction. For so long the bastion of establishment values, sometimes referred to as “The Tory Party at Prayer”, for once the leading lights of the church have spoken out about the inherent unfairness of a society that penalises and grinds down the poor and the ill, whilst rewarding unscrupulous fat cats with tax breaks for their million pound bonuses.
I found the people camped outside the cathedral creative, brave and well intentioned. They are ready to put themselves on the line and suffer discomfort and ridicule from the right-wing media and the establishment, to defend the poorer 80% of society against the ravages of a government for whom the acquisition of, and power of inherited money is the only measure of the worth of a nation.