The Requiem to London | Dan Mikhaylov
It was another afternoon, dreary and lacklustre from the ceaseless rainfall, characteristic of London in autumn. All studies finished, I stopped by the local Pret en route to my accommodation for some calm reflection after a particularly languid day. Slowly devouring an insipid, unreasonably priced croissant and washing it down with a cup of espresso – of the same exiguous flavour – I unintentionally listened in on my neighbours’ conversations, hoping to alleviate my otherwise profuse feeling of misery. The more I spent pursuing this whimsical interest, the more were my ears exposed to a unique cornucopia of different languages.
Whether it was Italian tourists diligently mapping out their itinerary or a couple of Polish students commenting on the tribulations of living in the UK, each dialogue stood out not just in content, but also in rhythm. It almost seemed as if I somehow ended up in a global village – you know, the downscaled version of the world – this time in real life, however. Indeed, you would often hear the phrase “London is a global city”, recited akin to a peculiar mantra by its various inhabitants, and every Pret you visit would is just as paradigmatic of this state of affairs as the other.
Hearing those conversations, I, however, could not help but notice that, together, their sounds bore greater semblance to a hapless, hastily written cacophony than to Elgar’s Nimrod. Some appeared to be incompatible, yet strangely coexisted in that asymmetrical, illogical tune. Even worse, there was no leading part in that symphony, no element of British culture that would have immediately made you distinguish it from a myriad of other works. Intriguing as it were, that melody stood out for all the wrong reasons. It was hackneyed and vulgarised, rendered revolting within a short amount of time by its sheer lack of structure. Back then, I realised that this episode in Pret had much more to it than just showcasing my irritation; it epitomised the sad reality of today’s London. It served as a horrid reminder of our chaotically multiculturalist oecumene.
In 2019, John Cleese was excoriated by the media for daring to state the obvious – that London is no longer British. Whilst one would no doubt anticipate venomous reactions from Labour politicians and The Guardian, it was perplexing that multiple people joined in to lambast John’s irrefutable observation. This was even true for many of my friends: few dared to admit that the comedian was correct for the fear of becoming social pariahs. Honesty seemingly amounted to a form of extremism.
Of course, all major urban centres of the world are diverse environments, the so-called melting pots of ideas. This kaleidoscopic assortment offers a conspicuous vindication of the extremely interconnected world, in which we reside. It has never been easier to communicate and travel thanks to our enviable technological progress. I am myself no luddite and cherish its fruits – after all, I have chosen to publish this article online!
But all change incurs upon us a price for exploiting its benefits – the price of cultural identity. That said, the situation is London is different from that of its counterparts elsewhere. Just look at such urban agglomerations as Moscow or Tokyo, which are just as conducive as London to enamour the most hard-headed travellers with scenery and traditions. But it is our gem in mankind’s artistic crown that stands out in lacking national identity.
Indeed, even the 2011 census reveals that only 77.9% of all the polled denizens spoke English as their first language. In fact, according to the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, London boasts an alarming population of 3,236,000 foreign-born residents. Remember, this is almost 40% of its residents! Needless to add, this figure is a huge outlier, even if juxtaposed with the data from Manchester or Birmingham. With this in mind, London’s multicultural dystopia is hardly emblematic of the rest of England, yet alone of the rest of the UK as a whole.
Then, why look at this with such askance? Well, the answer is simple: London has absorbed a little bit of everything, but, in doing so, became a lamentable mishmash of nothing. Living in London does not instil the basics of the British way of life. Conversely, should you opt to stroll down Edgware Road or decide to inspect Croydon’s brusselised landscape, you would swiftly recognise those places evince few cultural ties to the rest of Britain. Although London does not possess any of the so-called “no-go zones”, their emergence is only a matter of time. There are already areas, where cultures erase any possibility of socioeconomic assimilation for their people, entrapping them in relative poverty and incentivising criminal activity. How could it be otherwise, when assimilation connotes broadening one’s horizons, all the more valuable a skill in our increasingly globalised society? Without it, there is less solidarity amongst those who customarily live side by side. Solidarity predicates on having a common ground able to transform us from apathetic bystanders into a unified group of caring individuals in times of trouble. It was precisely this spirit of solidarity, best illustrated in the city’s resistance to the Blitz bombardments in the 1940s, which saw London attain its current prosperity.
Now, imagine a place, where none of this group feeling, humanity’s be-all-and-end-all, was felt. Imagine a world, whose ancient dwellers never defied the perturbing catastrophes, which befell our country’s precious capital. They chose voluntary isolation from the hardships of human existence and rejected any notion of solidarity instead. Horrible, right? I am sure all figments of our imagination would have one feature in common: a world of little achievement, as there would be no teamwork, a world of depredation, as there would be minimal empathy, and a world of little hope, as no one would dare to put his or her trust in another.
Hopefully, this forlorn scenario would remain a literary dystopia. I cherish London for what this marvellous place is known: its architectural masterpieces, its unrivalled artistic riches, and its provocative pace of life. Certainly, as every lover does, I fear that my affection would one-day end up unrequited. It saddens me to witness the gradual decline of the object of that sincere love, the decline that was brought about by the negligence of its own populace. My aim is by no means to advocate our collective and voluntary seclusion in impenetrable ivory towers.
After all, it is pointless and foolish to resist the impending advent of globalisation. Rather, I have intended to convey and ponder on the paradoxical state, in which we find ourselves, and voice some of my personal impressions. We should eschew constructing London’s own Tower of Babel in our pursuit of fusing the infusible. Diversity might be a strength or a weakness, but it is certainly not our civilisation’s ne plus ultra.
In an ideal world, we would not sacrifice as much as Britain has sacrificed in the name of the false utopian image that multiculturalism would unequivocally enrich us.