Tuesday, 13 July 2010
I came back from San Francisco and I hated London. I've never had that feeling about London before, but where it had always been exciting and vibrant, it was suddenly closed in and narrow and full of hollow people. I'm sure that in large part the reason for this was what I'd left behind in San Francisco. Who. But more than that. I loved how, at least in the parts I was hanging out in, I could really feel that it was a city for everyone, from all walks of life and all backgrounds. The London I know is a homogeneous place of well educated well off people - often monotonous and at worst stagnant.
I fully admit that this is a mere impression, limited as much by my own background and what I have so far found in London. There's a lot more to the place than the people on the train and the people in the offices in the City, but they are the ones I see all the time. And they all have more to them I would hope than the commute, the job and an expensive bed they hardly see. I'm just worried that many of them don't. I love my friends, and I know them well enough to know that they have dreams that go further than what they happen to be doing right now. That the job isn't the be all and end all. We are all of us in that circle the middle class products of a middle class upbringing and a thorough education. Factory made, almost. There hasn't been a lot of space for mutation or variation to appear. I guess I'm concerned that where such things do appear they are either ignored or papered over, rather than grown and developed and encouraged and valued.
[Ha. Picking something more or less at random to listen to while writing, I hit The Clash and find myself listening to London Calling, all about the other bits of London - which definitely exist even if I don't see them so much for myself.]
It's comforting and reassuring and impervious and safe, that fairly moneyed, fairly engaging existence. That's good as far as it goes. I'm very lucky indeed to have been born when I was to who I was, I know that. I'm allowed to be a free independent modern woman, able to make my own living. But it's a well-worn path - exactly what each of us was expected to do when our parents sent us all off at good schools at the age of 4. The people who start out as the children of one earnings bracket step up to take their parents' places. They even do the very same jobs their parents do. Both of my close lawyer friends are the children of lawyers. Of course there are logical reasons for this to happen even though we all might rather it was rather less rigid than it seems to be. Elaine (who is Irish) said to me a few months ago that she was always amazed at how class ridden British* society is, how little social mobility there is. I am intrigued to find that it is less so in other countries, though relieved that it isn't the same everywhere - perhaps Britain can change.
Tom put it the best - 'people are following life, not chasing it'. It's very easy to keep putting one foot in front of the other along the clear course and never to look to right or left. I don't want to be that person. I want to take in the view at the very least and wonder all the time about whether it would be better to drop out of the race and try out the path I can see over there. It's not the path itself that is wrong, it is the blind choosing of it. The passivity of never imagining anything different. I should say that I haven't had this conversation with any of these people - it may very well be that everybody I know has thought long and hard about what else they could be doing and is well aware of what else is out there and how other people live, for them to choose if they want to. It's what I'm doing, after all, or will be if my civil service job ever materialises. I am not in any way indicting or judging my friends for following it. Just hoping that they are active in choice.
But it is awkward to keep looking around you. I remember a conversation I had with my dad when I was 14 or so, when I said I believed that there was always hope, whatever happened. He said that that was an uncomfortable way to live because it meant that one would never be content with what one actually had. Maybe the day-dreaming about life as a chef or a gardener, both of which are well outside the ordered 9am to 1am city job spec, is the same - never content with the good of what is in front of me, not quite grateful for what I have. I'm trying to avoid that too, without numbing myself. Perhaps what I'm really saying is something I've talked about before, about ringing everything out of every experience and being aware of what experiences are available - not letting them roll on by without a glance.
*Yes, British. I think this certainly still happens in Scotland and Northern Ireland and Wales, too. The Irish Republic is different.