‘“All right, big man,” said the pirate DVD seller outside Sainsbury’s Nine Elms, “I got ’em all.” He fanned out his merchandise in one hand – lurid movie posters, shrunken and photocopied – while casting furtive glances around the crowded car park. As a rule I take a hard line on any copyright infringements whatsoever; after all, my livelihood depends on its enforcement just as much as – and probably more than – those of News Corp’s shareholders, whose subsidiary, 20th Century Fox, made Prometheus, the film I ended up buying for three quid.
‘It was the “big man” that did it, really. I liked the transposition it seemed to suggest of the old cockney honorific “guv’nor” into a multicultural context; after all, was it an African “big man”, or a Scots one? And I also appreciated that the DVD scalper was himself a big man, who, like so many other thousands of immigrants to London, was trying to wrest the spark of a living from those stony gods, Gog and Magog. So I bought Ridley Scott’s sci-fi epic, whose tagline is “The search for our beginning could lead to our end”, and my ten-year-old son and I strolled on. I was thinking about my own beginnings in the old Charing Cross Hospital – the Decimus Burton-designed building that is now the police station on the Strand – and I was thinking about this essay, the aim of which was somehow to encompass my feelings about my native city in this year of its very public orgy of attempted self-celebration.
‘I had almost managed to give the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee a complete swerve; but sitting, at the beginning of June, exhausted by the journey, in a beautiful and remote house on the Hebridean island of Mull, I was appalled when one of the friends I was holidaying with turned on the television and settled down to watch the festivities. In his defence, his attraction was to camp rather than pomp, but I’d come a long way to avoid the flotilla on the drear Thames, with its freight of civil-list supernumeraries and drizzled-upon luminaries.
‘To the workaday Londoner, preoccupied by getting from A to B through tangled and metalenmeshed streets, the monarchical sideshow – which goes on in one form or another all year round – is just another practical annoyance. My heart never stirs when I’m pulled up by the Met so that tourists can gawp at busby-topped Guardsmen on the Mall; I usually just get off my bike and push it through St James’s Park.
‘As for the international festival of running and jumping shortly to take place on Stratford Marsh, I have argued vociferously against this monstrous corporate boondoggle and cynical exercise in political boosterism across a plethora of media in the past couple of years, and I shan’t waste precious space on reprising those arguments here. Suffice to say, the British – and particularly the London – taxpayers will see no return on their money; the so-called legacy of the Games will be merely the new ruins of overpriced stadiums, together with a steroidinduced collective hangover. While it gives me no pleasure at all to say this – although Schadenfreude is a very cockney indulgence – the Olympics fiasco does at least provide us with a real-time demonstration of all that is wrong with London’s governance.’
To read the rest of Will Self’s piece on his love-hate relationship with London, visit the New Statesman website here.