Travel to London, A 1% City

Our trip started in London. We only had three days with the first day a blur; nobody slept on the red eye going over.

Staggering around the Tower of London with serious jet lag.

We knew that we were going to make mistakes on this trip, and would chalk up those errors as a learning experience for subsequent trips. The first mistake was make making a firm schedule or reservations for the first day. We needed a nap, but instead we put in ten miles criss/crossing the city, because I had already purchased nonrefundable tickets for the Tower of London and had booked a table at some Gordon Ramsey gastropub. Both were lovely, but I was too exhausted to remember much.

Lesson 1. Don’t expect that anyone in my family will sleep on a plane. Lesson 2. Don’t make reservations for Day 1. Lesson 3. Don’t make reservations for anywhere. They’re totally unnecessary and cramp your style.

The last time I was in London was the early 90s. It has changed quite a bit. Back then, my boyfriend at the time used to talk about the rough crowds in the pubs where he tended bar. Cockney guys who would drink too many beers while watching soccer matches and then regular beat each other in the face with their signet rings. Left a mark, apparently. It had the corny Queen tourist stuff, just as now, but it was mixed with granny traditions and a working class vibe. Punks in big hair and big boots were common place.

Cranes and St. Paul’s

Now, it’s no different from New York City. Just as New York has changed and lost it’s gritty artist, music scene, so has London. Even with Brexit, the city was still booming. Construction cranes were everywhere building luxury apartments and work spaces.

Rather getting a “plowman’s special” at a family pub with a warm beer like I did on previous trips, we ate in hip restaurants with chilled Italian beers and modern interpretations of English classic fare. We ate really well.

One night, we sat at one of those open air pubs drinking with Jonah, who was very, very pleased to be of legal drinking age. At the next table, was a group of girls about his age. They clearly weren’t backpackers staying at an $8 a night hostel like I did at their age. Dressed in heels and nice outfits, they were probably doing a summer abroad through their private colleges or had an internship.

Drinks at an underground pub with no signs. Only locals know about it. Got loaded there.

I met up with a friend of mine who works in the financial industry there. Her son, who went to a fancy private school in Westminster Cathedral, is now at an exclusive, but surprisingly cheap by American standards, college where he consorts with the children of Russian oligarchs who have homes in several cities, including New York, and vacation homes in Sardinia. Over flaming cocktails, she told me about the lifestyles of the ridiculously rich.

The ridiculously rich aren’t tied to one country, but many. Places like London and New York City are just one their homes. Their money has changed the landscapes of those cities for both the good and the bad. Don’t waste my time with nostalgia for the old 42nd street; it was a dangerous dump. But places like this have squeezed out ordinary folks, as well as the artists and creative types. Local culture has been lost to Gucci handbag stores and faux culture.

Clowning around at the Tate.

Since we live so close to Manhattan and my husband works there everyday, London didn’t feel like a huge adventure. The museums were lovely and would go back to see the ones that we missed on this trip, but it wasn’t a trip into a different culture. After three days, I packed up the few evening outfits that I brought for the trip, and we got on a train in King’s Cross for Scotland.

4 thoughts on “Travel to London, A 1% City

  1. I’m told that Moneyland by Oliver Bullough is very good on the conditions that enable the ridiculously rich to live lives outside the laws that apply to mere mortals. (His books on the Circassians and why, particularly, Russians in the Brezhnev years were drinking themselves to death are both very good.)

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  2. .The last time I was in London was the early 90s…. But places like this have squeezed out ordinary folks, as well as the artists and creative types. Local culture has been lost to Gucci handbag stores and faux culture.

    Not entirely.

    It’s true that London has changed from the early 90s. But that isn’t abnormal. If you had gone there as a student in the mid 60s and then returned now it would have changed just as much if not more. This seems like an odd complaint.

    But it is true that London has changed in a specific way. There are a several of reasons for this. First, Thatcher and the Tories financialized the British economy even more than we did, so there is much less industrial activity and many more investment bankers. The same economic forces that allow your husband to earn enough for European vacations also drive this change in the composition of the city. All those vacant apartments owned by Russians in the Docklands were built on top of warehouses and factories that don’t exist anymore.

    In addition, the changes in border controls caused by Schengen (which eliminated border controls from much of Europe) and the elimination of visa free travel from former African and Asian colonies in the 80s and 90s (and the panicked mass immigration that occurred before those border controls went up) caused a demographic shift. There are still a good number of working class people in London. It’s just that more of them are European expats or immigrants from Asia and Africa (or their children) and fewer of them are working class British punks. That said, there have always been a sizable number of non-British working class people in London. In the 80s and 90s they were the post-war immigrants from Eastern Europe and their children. You just didn’t pay attention to them.

    However, just as you can find plenty of normal working class people in New York by going to the right neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, you can see normal life in London as we know if if you wander around the right places. When I was still living in the UK I was in London the weekend of the 2015 FA cup and I took the Tube up to North London where I watched the match in a perfectly run of the mill working class pub that was packed to the rafters with Arsenal supporters. And when I was in London in May I wandered around South London and saw quite a bit of the places you say don’t exist anymore. I ended up having a drink, for instance, in this place. It’s not exactly the same as it would have been in the 90s (when pubs didn’t have web sites, for instance), but it was a perfectly normal family pub with perfectly normal people serving cellar temperature beer.

    Next time you are there go to South or East London and you will see plenty of normal living.

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    1. I just looked at that pub’s website and now I am wondering what a Fruit Machine is. I thought a tree was a fruit machine, but I’m obviously mistaken.

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