Saturday, 16 March 2013

Random sentiments from London's suburbs

In London these past few days, with a sense that the nation is unwell and looking for answers. I'm feeling distinctly less at ease here than in Warsaw, which despite a palpable slowdown in the economy still seems to know where its going.

Below: rain clouds brooding over Greenford Station, a unique station on the London Underground system; wooden escalators take you up to platform level, and a middle bay platform serves First Great Western trains from Paddington. A station built in the 1930s for a capital city rapidly sprawling outward.

Below: Keep calm and carry on shopping. A consumerist message for hard times. Incidentally, the 'Keep Calm and Carry On' slogan that was once intended as a wartime poster has a second life in these financially straitened times. The typeface, the design and variations on the slogan are very popular and visible in Britain today. The conference I attended yesterday and the day before had the slogan 'Business is Good for Britain', using the same font and layout.

Below: the suburbia I escaped to Warsaw from - dense sprawl of 1930s housing that stretches all the way from Kensal Rise in an uninterrupted arc to Ruislip and beyond. Pre-war houses converted for today's needs - neat front gardens turned over to off-street parking; kitchen extensions; loft conversions; double glazing; satellite dishes; burglar alarms. Looking across from the railway embankment between Greenford and South Greenford towards Wembley Stadium in the distance. Betjeman's Metro-land, though its charm has long since evaporated. "In fact, it's probably goodbye England," he said sadly of the sweeping tide of identical houses sweeping across once-rural Middlesex.

Below - the suburbia I do like; broad Edwardian avenues with grass verges - and an early spring. The suburban landscape between Ealing Broadway and my parents' house is an island of comparative beauty which peters out south and west of the railway lines and north of the A40. The spirit of place here is more genteel, more evocative of Britain's former years of splendour.

Can a nation turn around its decline? Refocus, regroup and attend an agenda of improved competitiveness? Address the issues of inequality without tempering drive? Look to the future rather than wallowing in nostalgia?

This time last year:
Stalinist neo-classicism in Warsaw

This time two years ago:
A week into Lent
[Easter was very late]

This time three years ago:
Afternoon-dusk-night in the city centre

This time four years ago:
A particularly harrowing reality

This time five years ago:
Wetlands waiting for the spring


White Horse Pilgrim said...

It's interesting to hear your opinion. I sense a loss of direction and of purpose in Britain, most especially morally. People feel powerless. Inept bankers lost enormous sums but continue to reward themselves handsomely, and we can do nothing about this absurdity. Materialism rules in a moral vacuum. The better off strive to make sure that the poor stay there, demonised so that "we" feel better about it. We're ripped off by retailers, utilities and train companies, but at least we can buy cheap imported goods, exporting jobs. Compared to this morass, rebuilding a nation like Poland must be exciting.

Michael Dembinski said...

@WHP - profound words, marking the decline of Britain as a nation. Yes, I do feel proud to be part of a nation on the way up. While middle-aged, middle-class Britons generally hanker for better days in the past, Poles look back on the totalitarian half-century as something awful, something from which to move on up