Category Archives: London

Five reasons it might not be so bad to have Boris as Mayor after all

1. The Mayor doesn’t have much to do anyway. He may have an £11B budget but it’s really only half a job. New Labour deliberately hobbled the Mayor’s office from the beginning by retaining control of everything important at the centre and providing no direct tax raising powers. The remarkable thing about Ken’s tenure has been how much impact he’s been able to have with control of public transport and bugger-all else.

2. He’s funny. He is funny isn’t he?

3. He’ll be a one-term Mayor. Nothing he’s proposed is achievable within budget. He’s backing away from the Routemaster idea (which has been authoritatively rubbished). Central Office cagily supported Boris but not his policies. With all the big reforms already firmly entrenched Boris will struggle to make an impact. As budgets rocket and policies evaporate disillusionment will set in.

4. Cameron will cut him loose. He may be better behaved now but you can’t innoculate a boob like Boris against gaffes. Can it be long before he alienates bus drivers or pensioners or people who live in Penge?

5. He’ll get bored. Boris evidently has the attention span of a nine year-old boy. As his concentration lapses he’ll drift off. Pretty soon he’ll forget where he works and after a year or two Londoners will be able to pick someone else.

Londony things

I drove, on the afternoon of yesterday’s catastrophic elections, across a large slice of North and East London, from suburban Hertfordshire to Stratford in the East End and then – via a nostalgic peep at my old flat next to the flyover (and the planned Olympic Village) in Bow – to Stoke Newington and back home again via the Holloway Road and the A1.

The city is on good form, doing that thing it does when the sunshine returns – shoving open its doors and giving the good weather a sort of tentative “don’t wind me up you slag” welcome (because, obviously, it’ll be pissing down tomorrow).

So Walthamstow and Leytonstone (those jewels of the North Circular) were looking a bit more like Sienna or Granada today: chairs propping open shop doors and streets full of crop-tops and happy slappers and graphic designers making a serious attempt to make Upper Clapton Road a bit more like The Ramblas.

The local authority elections gave the whole thing an extra buzz, of course. I passed dozens of polling stations and the heat-haze gave them all a bit of Cape Town glamour. The fact that 40% of the white folk around me had just voted for a fascist hardly troubled me at all…

On the buses

Routemaster buses on Oxford Street in 2002
The Routemasters are like jellied eels or Hawksmoor Churches or those people who swim in the ponds on Hampstead Heath. They’re eccentric and they say something about London’s weirdness and complexity and also its attachment to worn-out ideas and things. History tells us we won’t miss the old buses as much as we think we will, though. They’ll go the way of smoking carriages on the tube (or that pub on the platform at Sloane Square tube). In a few years they’ll be a folk memory – and besides, the bendy buses are already acquiring their own myths which will smoothly replace Routemaster stories over the next decades (they’re so huge: they’re like two tennis courts joined together. You could film an episode of Strictly Come Dancing in one half easily).

Like most people, what I’ll miss most is the conductors and not only because both my parents were conductors on Routemasters in the 50s. In those days the conductor was very much the junior crew member. Lots of drivers from that period were war-scarred veterans who’d learnt to drive in a tank or a military ambulance or a truck and joined the buses on demob. These men were worldly and full of stories and they often took their young conductors under their wings. My parents still talk with a lot of affection about their various drivers from that period, men who brought the wisdom and stoicism of the battlefield to the buses and weren’t really bothered what jumped-up inspectors and managers had to say, what with having seen off the Nazis and all that.

They’re not all Routemasters, you know. We call them Routemasters now like we call vacuum cleaners ‘hoovers’. Stick your hand out and stop the next bus geek and he’ll tell you that there were loads of other brands of double-decker, half-cab, open-platform buses on the road back then and that, whichever one you worked on, they were all hard work. No proper heating, no power steering, no automatic transmission, nowhere to stow a pram or a suitcase.

Fifteen years ago I went down to the London Transport Museum and bought my Dad an old conductor’s ticket machine for his birthday. It was a thing of beauty: made from shiny aluminium, worn smooth by years of service. It was heavy and had a satisfyingly chunky action (“whizz-whizz-clunk”). Of course, when I gave the thing to him he said: “Never used one of these. This is a model G. Very unreliable. We used the D in my garage”.

Parking people

Why are 80% of Central London parking attendants from West Africa? Terrific Radio 4 programme (MP3) by Ade Daramy. These guys take terrible stick from God fearing Londoners who think it’s OK to throw dog shit, darts and racist language at them because they fight the good fight against out-of-control traffic congestion and antisocial motorists.

My solution? Give them all the status (and the uniforms) of Community Support Officers (junior police officers – one of Blunkett’s better ideas). Give them police radios, first aid training – all the duties, in fact, of Community Support Officers. This should give them the protection afforded to the police and their witless abusers can go straight to jail…

7/7?

Looks like only the foreign press has adopted 7/7 as a name for yesterday’s bombings. Seems crass to be worrying about labels but a unique tag for the events would be useful – it would make finding references (in the blogosphere, news, flickr and so on) much easier.

That terrible day was characterised by a flood of images from the thousands of people directly involved while the professional photographers hung around uselessly outside the expanding police cordon. Here’s a deadly serious application for folksonomy: stitch together the historic record of the July 7th bombings. Update: a flickr pool for the bombings. A Technorati search for “london bomb” is also fairly useful.

The day after infamy

A big city is an amazing thing. It’s obviously more than the sum of its parts. This city’s history makes it wide open, accepting, perhaps incautious and that makes London a perfect target for the psychopathic criminal nihilists but it also makes it a robust and adaptable entity. Even an ingenious, distributed attack on the city’s transport network can’t break it.

The city continues to function today and will do so without significant pause. I’m very, very proud of London and the Londoners (and the honorary Londoners who work here) who came through yesterday’s nightmare with such nobility. I’m also certain that no one can break the will of this city to remain an open, happy and productive place. London really can take it.

And watch out for those pea-soupers…

Strange ‘insider tips’ from The Economist’s London City Guide that came through my letterbox the other day, apparently cut and pasted from a 1950s travel guide:

Table manners are keenly observed as a sign of good breeding. Never talk with your mouth full; never reach across the table; do not wave cutlery around or yell “I’m done” to the waiter. The British are less politically correct than their American counterparts. Wittiness often means an agility with sexual innuendo, with a pint in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The woes of public transport are a sure-fire way of reviving a flagging conversation.

Ironic? Out of touch? You decide.